Running a sustainable farm is no small task. Add working with your family to the mix and you’ve got a potential disaster on your hands. But luckily, the family who runs White Oak Pastures works well together. And all their hard work has paid off because White Oak is sustainable and successful (and the the family who helms the farm still loves each other).
To find out more about White Oak Pastures and how the farm has evolved, we interviewed Jenni Harris, White Oak‘s marketing manager, and Jodi Harris Benoit, the farm’s events coordinator and agritourism manager. Harris and Benoit filled us in on how they came back to work on the family farm and how the farm embraced sustainable farming.
EcoSalon: Tell us about how you both came back to work on the family farm.
Jenni Harris: I graduated from high school ready to move on for college. I had a wonderful time at Valdosta State and managed to graduate with only a few bumps and bruises. I wasn’t quite ready to move home, so I embarked for Atlanta, where I got a good and lasting taste of city life. My dad had a rule: before we could come back and work on the farm for him, we had to work for someone else for at least one year. After 365 days in Atlanta, I returned home with my resume. I have worked at our family business since June 2010.
Jodi Harris Benoit: I always knew I wanted to be close to home but never knew there would be a place for me on the farm until we started transitioning into what we are today. Once I saw what my father was doing, I could not wait to get back and see what my contribution to the farm would be. I graduated from VSU in 2012 and worked off of the farm for a year and a half. I started full time at White Oak Pastures in January of 2014.
EcoSalon: How has the farm changed since it was founded?
Jenni Harris: The farm started to transition in the mid ’90s, which would put me around 10 years old. Like most kids, I didn’t really pay attention to the ins and outs of operations, but I do remember our transition to certified organic. After years of chemical use and giving up on fertilizer “cold turkey,” the grass was brown, the cows were hungry, and dad stayed disappointed. It’s amazing how far a little rain and green grass will take your attitude. The one thing that hasn’t changed and never will is that the farm was established on respect. While the operations have evolved over the years, the heart for respecting the land and the animals has not.
EcoSalon: What sustainable farming practices do you use at your farm?
Jenni Harris: Our zero-waste production model includes making our own fertilizer from offal and bones, making biodiesel from fat, accessories from hides, pet treats, soap, and much more. No part or piece goes to waste but becomes the core of another product we are able to offer our customers.
EcoSalon: What concerns you most about modern farming practices?
Jodi Harris Benoit: The excesses. It seems that every day industrial agriculture is constantly fighting nature.
EcoSalon: Are there a lot of female farming networking opportunities where you live?
Jenni Harris: Yes, there are opportunities, and none of them are limited to men. I think women are still trying to find their place in the agriculture equation.
EcoSalon: Any issues working with family?
Jenni Harris: Every family has their issues, but I’m happy to report my family’s issues are manageable. Honestly, I love working with my family, and working at White Oak Pastures has changed my definition of what family really is. I feel like I have 114 brothers and sisters.
Jodi Harris Benoit: Like every family we have our moments, but I look forward to getting up every morning to spend time with my family at work. We make it fun! We also have 114 employees that gives White Oak Pastures that family feel. I always feel like someone has my back.
EcoSalon: Where do you want to see the farm in five years?
Jenni Harris: Continuing to diversify and coming up with better ways to use what we already have.
Jodi Harris Benoit: Still changing and diversifying. I would love for us to acquire more land to grow our own poultry feed, be settled into our new store in Bluffton, and build a lodge!
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All images by Angie Mosier