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Sunday, November 27, 2011

White Oak Pastures - Dignity & Respect @ Its Core

One Family, One Farm, Five Generations, 145 Years 
A Full Circle Return to Sustainable Land Stewardship & Humane Animal Stockmanship

Above is the introduction on the White Oak Pastures website - a perfect introduction to the integrity, dignity and respect at the foundation of White Oak Pastures (WOP) farming practices.  

Within the full circle of WOP farming methods are the decades when commercialized operations, filled with nitrogen-based fertilizer, antibiotics, long (thousands of miles) journeys to feedlots for the young cattle, and other unmentionable yet common practices, were the norm at WOP and the industry. It was a profitable time period for the farm.

White Oak Pastures 411
WOP Cattle are athletes
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Libby
Around the millennium shift, Will Harris III, WOP Patriarch, began the journey of returning WOP to traditional agriculture methods, with an infusion of technology where appropriate. The first step was shifting his herd to a grass and hay-only diet, the nutrition their digestive tracks were built to digest. Sheep were added to aid in weed control and balance the land.

At the core of the farming evolution is treating the animals, land and those who consume the meat with respect and dignity. When the land and animals are tended with integrity and in alignment with the systems nature created, the result is healthy, GREAT tasting meat. The entire chain from the soil to the livestock to the farmers to the consumer benefit.

Eliminating the cattle transport for slaughter (some prefer the term harvest) was the next step in the farming evolution journey. In 2008 Will traversed numerous regulations and built a $2.2 million US Department of Agriculture inspected beef abattoir. Only one other on-farm USDA-inspected abattoir is permitted in the nation.

Healthy WOP Turkey
Photo courtesy of WOP 
To bring the land back to its balanced, healthy state, Will reinstated grazing rotation in his fields. Using the Serengeti Plains grazing model, a field is grazed first by the large ruminants - cattle, followed by smaller ruminants - sheep with birds completing the cycle. Ruminants are cud-chewing mammals with four-compartment stomachs.

With chickens and turkeys part of ranch operations, Will embarked on securing the appropriate permits to build an on-site poultry abattoir. In August, 2011 White Oak Pastures opened the only abattoir for free-range poultry in GA, TN, FL, MI and AL, paving the path for his birds to never leave the farm until post-slaughter and for smaller farmers in surrounding states to harvest their free-range birds.

WOP is the only farm in the US with beef and poultry abattoirs on the property. Both abattoirs are zero waste and 40% of plant energy comes from on-site solar panels.  A future ZWZ Blog post will give details.

WOP beef (rt) & poultry (lft) on-farm arbattoirs
Photo courtesy of Melissa Libby & Associates 
Consumer and chef education was integral to building demand for WOP products, priced at a premium to inhumanely raised meat. Whole Foods took the lead with educating the consumer and Will hosted many on-farm chef tours. 

 While serving as the Georgia Restaurant Association chef liaison, Holly Elmore (Elemental Impact founder) orchestrated the first WOP chef tour, Celebration of Grassfed Beef, in July, 2008. 

Imagine the courage and fortitude required to replace profitable farm practices with methods respectful to the land, animals, farm workers and the consumer. A tremendous investment was required for profits to return. Will Harris is a pioneer and hero!

Chefs @ end of 2008 WOP Tour
Photo courtesy of Melissa Libby
Georgia is taking notice and giving Will accolades for his amazing conviction and accomplishments. Will was named the 2011 SBA Small Business Person of the Year for GA, received the GA Governor's Award for Environmental Stewardship and was acknowledged as Innovator of the Year at the 2011 GRACE Awards (GRACE = Georgia Restaurant Association Crystal of Excellence).  

Family tradition deepens as Will's daughter Jenni Harris joined WOP staff full-time in 2010 and became the fifth generation to raise livestock on the farm.

“The most rewarding thing that I do is having the opportunity to raise livestock in a humane and sustainable way and provide it to customers who appreciate it,”  Will says. “Being able to do this on our 145-year-old farm and being able to share it with my daughter just makes it better.”

Will & Jenni Harris with their
2011 Innovator of the YEAR Award
Photo Courtesy of Holly Elmore
To learn more about Will Harris & WOP, watch the Whole Foods video, An Interview with Will Harris, to witness Will's commitment along with many interesting WOP facts. For a more lively look at Will's conviction and personality, the Southern Foodway Alliances video, CUD by Joe York, is a MUST for Will Harris admirers!

The impact of White Oak Pasture's evolution into an amazing sustainable livestock ranch and abattoir is gaining momentum. Will is a role model and building a path for the farming industry to follow. It is an honor to know Will Harris and call him a friend ... more to come on Will in future posts.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2011: An Amazing Year for Ei

What a phenomenal year!  For Elemental Impact 2011 was filled with national speaking engagements, new partnerships, major ACTION and much more.  On November 16, Ei Sponsors and Advisory Council members traveled from around  the country for the powerful annual meeting at HLB Gross Collins' offices.

Scott, Holly& Chris with the
2011 Going Green Airport Award

After introductions and the 2011 overview, Zero Waste Zones Director Susan Montgomery gave a ZWZ update including the detailed program documentation.  Susan passed around a book filled with recruiting documents from the ZWZ Ambassador program, training PPT presentation and the packet used in national expansion meetings.  Additionally, the ZWZ information was moved from the Ei website into its own website mid year.

The "packaging" of the ZWZ was a perfect segue for Chris Moyer, National Restaurant Association ConSERVE Project Director, to present on the ZWZ evolution into Sustainable Action Zones,  a NRA program in partnership with Ei.   Chris spoke on the powerful synergies inherent within the NRA | Ei partnership and how it brings forth important collaborations.  One such collaboration is with the U.S. Composting Council.
Chris Moyer presenting to full room

Wayne King, USCC Past President, spoke about the upcoming December 12 meeting at the NRA offices.   With only approximately 350 permitted composting sites nationwide, the NRA's political voice is critical. For many of the current permitting challenges to resolve, regulators must hear the major post-consumer organics generators are demanding an alternative destination to landfills.  The industry is on the cusp of making an evolutionary leap and the NRA, in collaboration with the USCC, has a vital role to play.

The USCC | NRA collaboration was an excellent preface for Scott Seydel, Ei Chair & Global Green Chair, to discuss POWER - Perishable Organics Waste to Energy Recycling - status.  In addition, to his impressive PPT on the planned POWER website, Scott spoke of POWER's important role and how it served as an incubator for GREASE - Grease Recycling Energy Alternatives Solutions for the Environment  and the Sustainable Food Court Initiative.

Linda Dunn
Ei Founder Holly Elmore gave the SFCI overview including the 2011 Going Green Airport Award for the Atlanta Airport pilot (see the ZWZ Blog post, Atlanta Airport SFCI Pilot Wins National Award, for details). Linda Dunn, HMSHost VP Supply Chain & Analysis, followed with the important role HMSHost plays in the SFCI Projects, including work at the Tampa & Charlotte Airports.  How empowering to listen as Linda explains the SFCI | ZWZ (and NRA | Ei) collaboration is integral to HMSHost's sustainability commitment and game plan.

After the mid afternoon break, Susan Montgomery presented the Ei Business Projections followed by Sylvia Gort, Ei AC member, leading the strategy session.  Future action paths on Toxic-Free Environments and Health Impact were discussed along with the important role social media can play in communicating Ei's important ACTION.

Ei AC Members Sylvia Gort &
Greg Chafee @ reception
As always, Ei meetings begin with a wonderful lunch and end with a wine reception.  Thank you Bold American Catering for your Ei sponsorship and providing excellent food & service.

The Ei FB album, 11-16-11 Ei Sponsor & AC Meeting, gives a meeting pictorial overview.  Meeting PPT presentations will be loaded on the Ei Speaking Engagements page.

Thank you to those who contribute their resources, financial, time and expertise, to Elemental Impact - you are the reason for Ei program success.  Our important work is educating the corporate community that sustainable operating practices make solid business sense. These are thrilling times - stay tuned!