Our family has raised livestock on this land since 1866, for five generations. That is commitment.
In 1995, we decided the right thing to do for our cattle herd would be to transition to a grassfed pastured program. We gave up feeding grain, hormone implants, and antibiotics. Making this change flew in the face of the tried-and-true way of raising cattle, but we did it. That is commitment.
In 2000, we decided the right thing to do for our land would be to cease using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It was economically painful, but we did it. That is commitment.
In 2005, we decided the right thing to do for our animals and for our customers would be to build our on-farm USDA-inspected beef abattoir. There was only one other in the country. It was an enormous economic risk, but we took it. That is commitment.
In 2009, we decided it was wrong for our land and our herd to operate a monoculture of cattle. We acquired a herd of sheep and raised chickens in our pastures. It was an incredibly steep learning curve, but we did it. That is commitment.
In 2010, we decided Certified Organic vegetables had a place at White Oak Pastures. With making our own compost from the viscera of the animals we processed, diversifying our farm into vegetable production was the right thing to do. That is commitment.
In 2011, we decided it would be necessary to construct an on-farm USDA-inspected poultry abattoir. We added ducks, geese, guineas, and turkeys to our flocks. White Oak Pastures became the only farm in the United States with its own red meat and poultry on-farm, USDA-inspected abattoirs. It was another incredible economic risk and another steep learning curve, but we did it. That is commitment.
In 2012, we built an on-farm restaurant to feed our 100 employees. Our open-aired Pavilion, located on the edge of our organic vegetable farm, serves lunch every day and supper Wednesday through Saturday. The White Oak Pastures Pavilion is one of the only restaurants in the state that is dual-inspected by the Health Department and the Department of Agriculture. This was not an easy endeavor, but we did it. That is commitment.
In 2013, we raised 7,000 laying hens to maturity to take our pastured egg production to another level. Our chickens live, roost and lay outside in our pastures, never confined to a crate or cage. Our eggs are candled, graded and packed on the farm five days each week. That is commitment.
In 2014, we invested in lodging at White Oak Pastures, in order to further our commitment to the education of sustainable agriculture. White Oak Pastures needed to become more of a destination, attracting customers that are passionate about the food production system. Restoring older houses and investing in the rural and desolate town of Bluffton was not convenient or inexpensive, but we did it. That is commitment.
In 2015, we invested in software to help us vertically integrate our customers, inventory, online store, accounts receivables, accounts payable and payroll. It was a steep learning curve in a direction we had little interest, but we didn’t give up. That is commitment.
In 2016, we dove deep into learning more about regenerative agriculture and holistic management. We became one of only 23 global Savory Hubs. This brought on new grazing techniques and significant infrastructure investments. We knew it was the right thing to do for the land, the animals and our community. It was cheap or easy, but we did it. That is commitment.
In 2016, our village needed a store. Instead of building an inexpensive, new building, we made the decision to restore Bluffton's Old General Store. This store, located on Church Street in downtown Bluffton, was once a major place of small-town commerce. But, when agriculture was industrialized, citizens abandoned our small town for jobs and a better chance of making a living. Little stores like the Herman Bass Store (remodeled to be the White Oak Pastures General Store) closed in the 1960's, leaving Bluffton to look much like a deserted western ghost town. When we re-opened our General Store, it became the only place within a 10-mile radius to buy a coca-cola or roll of toilet paper. Today, you can shop for White Oak Pastures meats and poultry, as well as our full lines of tallow goods, pet chews and leather products. We also stock several items made in Georgia by some of our artisan friends. That is commitment.
In 2018, our online business had grown to a point that investments were needed to effectively manage inventory produced in our on-farm abattoirs. We are farmers, not inventory or IT specialists, so expensive software was purchased and procedures set in place. We knew we wanted to handle order fulfillment on the farm, to keep this function in line with our vertically integrated production system. This learning curve was and continues to be, steep. This is commitment.
We are now certain this journey to do the right things for our land and animals is endless. We will come to realize there are other steps we must take, and as we figure out what these next steps are, we will take them. That is because we are committed.