COLUMBUS — A farm vision focused on animal welfare, regenerative land practices, and rural revival will be the focus of a keynote address by fourth-generation cattleman Will Harris at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 42nd annual conference, Our Time: Essential Links in a Strong Food Chain.
In his Feb. 10 keynote address, presented by Turner Farm, “Regenerating Land with Livestock,” Harris will describe how the farm’s holistic, polyculture production system for 10 species of livestock, zero-waste model, and on-farm meat processing have made White Oak Pastures the largest private employer in the county, while regenerating the land.
“Our farm is creating more in terms of organic matter in the soil and microbial biodiversity than it is depleting,” Harris, who has been called a “carbon cowboy,” told PR Newswire. “This shows that it is possible for humans to positively contribute to the environment through our food production system using holistic management and planned grazing of livestock.”
White Oak Pastures is a 154-year-old family farm in Bluffton, Ga., that raises chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, guineas, hogs, rabbits, cattle, goats, sheep, and laying hens, along with certified organic vegetables. The farm is Certified Non-GMO, Certified Grassfed, Certified Humane, Certified EOV, and rated Step 4 in the Global Animal Partnership.
White Oak Pastures’ zero-waste production system utilizes each part of the animals that they pasture raise and hand butcher on farm. Harris built processing slaughterhouses, or abattoirs, to allow them to vertically integrate their production system, control the quality of their products, and hire 165 employees, making them the largest private employer in the county. Their USDA-inspected beef abattoir, designed by Temple Grandin, is only the second of its kind in the United States, and their USDA-inspected poultry abattoir, is the only one in Georgia and the region available for pastured poultry.
“One of the least resilient parts of the American food production system is that the chain is too long. The multi-national food companies have spent the last 25 years narrowly focused on maximizing their profits through efficiency,” Harris told Fox News. “Now, amidst the challenges of this pandemic and pending food shortages, these factory farms are euthanizing pigs and poultry because the processing plants have closed and cannot get to them.”
Harris has previously served as the beef director of the American Grassfed Association and president of the board of directors of Georgia Organics. He was named 2011 Georgia Business Person of the Year. White Oak Pastures is one of only 23 global Savory Hubs.
“I was the only child of a successful cattleman, and never wanted to do anything else,” Harris told Southeast Farm Press. “I believe I was born to do this, and everything I have done was preparation for this. I have the best job in the world.”
Harris will also lead a 60-minute workshop, “Live Question and Answer with Will Harris” on Thursday, Feb. 11.
OEFFA’s 42nd annual conference, to be held online Feb. 10-15, will also feature keynote speakers Dr. Elaine Ingham and Navina Khanna; more than 60 educational workshops; full-day Food and Farm School classes; an interactive virtual trade show; debates, mixology and chef lessons, an open mic, children’s activities, and more.
Sliding scale rates and a limited number of scholarships are available. For more information about the conference, or to register, go to www.oeffa.org/conference2021.