Rancher at White Oak Pastures
Will Harris is a fourth generation cattleman, who tends the same land that his great-grandfather settled in 1866. Born and raised at White Oak Pastures, Will left home to attend the University of Georgia’s School of Agriculture, where he was trained in the industrial farming methods that had taken hold after World War II. Will graduated in 1976 and returned to Bluffton where he and his father continued to raise cattle using pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics. They also fed their herd a high-carbohydrate diet of corn and soy.
These tools did a fantastic job of taking the cost out of the system, but in the mid-1990’s Will became disenchanted with the excesses of these industrialized methods. They had created a monoculture for their cattle, and, as Will says, “nature abhors a monoculture.” In 1995, Will made the audacious decision to return to the farming methods his great-grandfather had used 130 years before.
What would be your last meal on Earth?
If tomorrow was my last day on Earth and I was having my last meal, I would request a New York strip steak, that was aged for 5,000 days.
What is the problem with meat in America?
Industrialization, commoditization (which has been widely successful: abundant, cheap and consistent meat), and centralization of the meat industry are the main issues with Meat in the U.S. The other unintended consequences are on animal welfare, the environment and rural America.
What is the solution?
Consumer education! So many of us believe it is a regulatory solution but I do not. Big agriculture is so strong that there won’t be a regulatory solution. Consumer education is how to get it done. We are the early innovators in changing agriculture and food.
What is your earliest food memory?
My earliest recollection of food, and food being really good food, was catching it, or picking it, and eating it right there, right then. I grew up on this farm, on Sundays we worked all morning, and we thought we were going to get off to go to town, and do whatever, but my father at the last minute would say, “Go out there and catch us a mess of fish and clean em, and your ma will cook them.” Or, “Go kill us a mess of squirrels, doves, or a quail for supper.” And going out, and picking tomatoes (we always had a big garden) and there was a brick column that sat at the end of the garden, and there was a big blue box of morton salt that sat on the brick column, with a wash pot, an enamel wash pot over it, and a brick on top. And standard operating procedure would be, you go out there in the garden, you took a tomato, get the morton box of salt, lick the tomato, hit it with the salt, and eat it, and it runs down the front of your shirt. Or you stop in the garden, and you pick a watermelon, and bring it on that same brick column, and if your knife was too dirty to use, you busted the watermelon, and eat it right there. So, my earliest recollection of foods is how incredibly good it is when it’s caught, shot, harvested, picked, and eaten right there in its venue.