Will Harris: From industrial farmer to sustainable, humane producer

Photo of Will Harris by Southern Foodways Alliance via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This past weekend The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a lengthy profile of Georgia farmer Will Harris by reporter John Kessler. As Kessler writes,

Harris is breaking the mold on farming in Georgia. His organic grass-fed cattle are slaughtered with methods animal welfare advocates call commendable, and steaks from his beef are cooked and plated in Atlanta’s finest restaurants. Whole Foods prominently features White Oak Pastures beef in its stores. And Harris, with 85 employees and what seems like half of Early County working for him, is now doing for chicken what he’s done for beef; raising pasture-fed birds and slaughtering them more humanely.

But 15 years ago White Oak Pastures wasn’t anything like this and Harris, a fourth-generation Georgian farming land owned by his family since the Civil War, seemed destined to farm the same way his father had, and his father before that. Harris’ father — a harsh, unyielding man — pushed the farm as far as he could, pumping any and all chemicals into the earth and into the animals to turn acreage into meat. Armed with an animal science degree and a quick mind, Harris set out to best his father, and he did.

But then, one day, without consulting anyone, he just stopped. He stopped feeding his cattle a mixed ration of grain and powdered dietary supplements they digested poorly, and he stopped implanting estrogen pellets behind their ears. He stopped buying bull semen and instead bought bulls. He stopped loading weaned 7-month-old calves into 53-foot-long double-decker hauling trucks to travel 1,400 miles in their own filth to a feedlot.

It’s a fascinating read, accompanied by photos and a great video from Brant Sanderlin, so check them out for yourself here.

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