Since 1866, White Oak Pastures has been home to farm and ranch animals for the Harris family. Now six generations later, Will Harris is changing the face of agriculture with his farming practices.
In 1866, shortly after the Civil War, in the small town of Bluffton, Georgia (current population 103), White Oak Pastures came to life through the hard work of Captain James Edward Harris. Six generations later, Will Harris III and his family are radically transforming the old way of farming. What started as a small community farm of sharecroppers and their families is now a leader in regenerative land management and humane animal husbandry.
In 1995, Mr. Harris made the decision to change the way his family had been farming for decades. He traveled to Zimbabwe to study under Allan Savory and came back determined to return the farm to a production system that’s not only better for the environment but is healthier for the animals and in turn, healthier for the people who eat the meat. The transition started slowly at first with Harris implementing changes such as removing all chemical fertilizers and moving away from confinement feeding for their animals. This was the first step towards returning the farm to its most natural state.
White Oak Pastures is humanely raising ten different species of animals including beef, goat, lamb, pork, turkey, chicken, duck, goose, guinea, and rabbit. They are also marketing their farm-grown vegetables, leather products, tallow goods, and pet chews; all of which are sustainably grown, harvested, and processed.
Mr. Harris, a University of Georgia School of Agriculture graduate, will be the first to tell you that he got through college making all C’s in his courses. He studied reductive scientific research on foraging, the impact of fertilizers, pesticides, grazing techniques, the effect of various drugs on animals, and more.
“Every Ph.D. holding professor had a different idea of what we were supposed to do and what the best practices were. There was no consistency in what we were taught. They were just showing us a sliver of what farming entailed. I always felt like I was watching a ball game through a missing plank in a board fence.” says Mr. Harris. He adds, “they were teaching the industrial way of operating a meat production system. As White Oak Pastures has transitioned to a holistic, regenerative model, we’ve created the cowboy way of operating an ecosystem.”
That cowboy operation has turned the massive property into a thriving ecosystem not only for the livestock but for local inhabitants as well. White Oak Pastures believes that farming should not only be sustainable, but it has to be regenerative to rebuild the soil and mitigate climate change. The farm uses a holistic grazing method that uses animal impact to sequester carbon, control erosion, and increase organic matter found in the soil.
After having a Carbon Life Cycle Assessment done on their property, it was found that the farm stores more carbon in their soil than the pasture-raised cows can emit in their lifetime. This land regeneration has also had a positive effect on the local water supply as well. A large creek that flows through the property has now completely cleared up, encouraging fish and other animals to build their habitats on the White Oak side of the creek. Neighboring waterways have mass amounts of runoff from their land causing murky and muddy water which stops at a very distinct line once it crosses into White Oak Pastures.
Mr. Will Harris has no intention of stopping his methods and is working with other local farms and encouraging a mindset change for farmers across the country. White Oak has successfully regenerated former commodity row crops into perennial pastures and is partnering to provide planned livestock grazing and regenerative land management on another local 2,400-acre solar farm.
In addition to their radical farming practices, White Oak Pastures encourages people to come and visit their farm to see what it’s all about. They currently have four properties that are available for people to book to get an immersive experience of south Georgia. A farm tour can be added to any booking and guests are encouraged to explore as much or as little as they like. White Oak Pastures also has an on-site General Store as well as an on-farm dining experience with breakfast, lunch, and dinner options available.
The Harris family prayer has always been,
“We pray for plenty of good, hard work to do and the strength to do it.” Sometimes, it has taken all our strength to do the work, but our family has been on this farm for a century and a half, and we are in it for the long haul. If there was ever a time to know your farmer, it’s now. There’s never been more focus on the supply chain than there is right now, so when deciding who you want to support, we hope you’ll choose us- Cowboys and Butchers working together on a 5,000-acre, six-generation family farm, regenerating our land and producing food in a radically traditional way.”
Visit and learn more about White Oak Pastures at www.whiteoakpastures.com. All photo credit goes to White Oak Pastures.
Cowboy Lifestyle Magazine
This article with Stephanie Nash was created for the Spring Issue of the Cowboy Lifestyle Magazine which was released in April 2023. You can catch this article and many more by checking out the full issue. For more information on Cowboy Lifestyle Magazine, visit the website here.
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