Building Soil with Animal Impact: White Oak Pastures

Sustainability isn't enough; it has to be regenerative.

Land is meant to be a living thing. It contains the natural order of all living things: Life, Growth, Death, Decay, Life, Growth, Death, Decay. The land is our teacher. Looking back to the evolution of out ecosystem informs the way we manage land today. The energy cycle, carbon cycle, mineral cycle, microbe cycle, water cycle have all co-evolved with plants, microbes, and animals since our planet's creation. Our passion is to create an environment that allows these cycles to flow freely: microbes feed plants which feed the animals which spread urine and feces to microbes which feeds the plants which feeds the animals. 

Fewer than 20 years ago, White Oak Pastures had evolved into a conventionally-run commodity cattle farm. We employed all of the industrial tools that science had developed to take the costs out of farming, including pesticides, chemical fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics. Even while using these artificial crutches, our family never ceased to believe that we were being good stewards of our land. We were completely oblivious to the grave consequences that can result from fighting against nature. We were unwittingly steering our family heritage in a direction that was not environmentally sustainable. But by the mid-1990’s, White Oak Pastures Owner Will Harris had become disenchanted with the excesses of that system. In 1995 he made the bold—and some thought, foolish—decision to take the farm back to its origins. 

Today, we are raising cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, poultry, and rabbits using the same methods Will’s great-grandfather used a century-and-a-half ago. We proactively support nature's food chain, using only sun, soil, and rain to grow sweet grasses for our animals to eat. Using Regenerative Land Management, we rotate complimentary animal species side-by-side through our pastures. The cows graze the grass, the sheep and goats eat the weeds and shrubs, and the chickens peck at the grubs and insects. All species naturally fertilize the land, and our soil is again a living organic medium that teems with life.

Raising animals this way is not the cheapest method. Our way is, however, the right way for the sake of our animals, our environment, and for the people who eat our products. Stewardship of our farm is not a passing fancy; it is a lifestyle decision and a core value of our family. We continuously strive to improve our land stewardship.

We are proud to be the largest USDA Certified Organic farm in Georgia. Our animals are processed in USDA-inspected abattoirs that we built here on our farm, and they are zero-waste facilities. All animal remains are composted on our farm and used as organic fertilizers for our pastures. We have a small-scale Organic vegetable farm on our property that grows more than 40 varieties of heritage vegetables, fruits and nuts. About 20% of our plants' energy needs are met by solar panels.

White Oak Pastures received the Governor’s Award for Environmental Stewardship in 2011, The University of Georgia’s Award of Excellence in 2008, named the Most Respected Business Leader in Georgia, received the Growing Green Award in 2014, and the Georgia Organics Land Steward Award in 2016. Also in 2016, White Oak Pastures became one of 23 global Savory Hubs.

White Oak Pastures Water Stable Aggregation chart

White Oak Pastures chart showing Microbial Activity  by years regeneratively grazed

White Oak Pastures chart showing soil organic matter by years regeneratively grazed

White Oak Pastures chart showing soil carbon per years regeneratively grazed