Recently, I had the opportunity to photograph and stay on a 5th generation family farm in Southwest Georgia. Founded soon after the Civil War by Captain James Edward Harris, White Oaks Pastures is a massive beef, poultry and vegetable operation owned and operated today by the founder's great-great-great grandson, Will Harris.
Will is a powerful presence. A passionate and proud farmer, father (and Southerner), he chose to do things /his/ way. I'd heard that Will is the man who took this 1,000 acre industrialized, grain-fed operation and chose to do things differently. But not for the reasons you'd expect. Will is not what I would call a hippie. He has about as much patience for Millennials as I do for mosquitos and the man eats a steak every single night. He's a self-proclaimed grass farmer. He didn't change the cows' diets so his customers would taste the emotion of love in the meat (or whatever else clever Marketing is out there). Will chose to "take care of the land and the herd, and they take care of us."
Will's philosophy with farming is cyclical and big-picture, not about calorie per pound outputs. He answered questions about herd size by commenting on the number of bites per blade of grass. Instead of condemning prior farming practices or claiming animal welfare, he’d simply retort: “Nature abhors a monoculture. Chickens were born to scratch and peck.” And, in a town whose population is 99 persons, Will employs close to 150 (yes, people commute to WOP). He's basically the Mayor.
My (vegan, yoga teacher and slim fitting trouser wearing musician) friends and I had questions.
How is this man making all the choices with ethos similar to ours, yet he seems so…
During dinner (and after a glass of wine), we mustered the courage to ask about two things that we were curious about. Will recently became a grandfather, his daughter (who also works full time on the fam) is a new mom and a lesbian. Wasn't it challenging, down here, aren’t people’s minds small or judgmental? He simply said: “if you were gonna make a queer joke, would you make it to me?”
Fair. (and, duh, nope).
There are a number of things captivating about WOP. Early in the morning, outside our cabin, I swam in the same pond where Will grew up cooling off. “There’s gators, but they’re friendly. They don’t bite.” I took his word for it, and still: 10 fingers, 10 toes.
Not everything is what it seems, and I'm grateful for the experience to confront my assumptions about South Georgia farmers. Some people are strong and make choices that greatly impact the welfare of other animals and humans and the earth not from a stance on moral crusade or "fixing" a problem, but just because it’s what they know and choose as right in their soul. Whatever the divine reasoning, I’m glad to have found this farm, met the man, and buy the beef.
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” //Albert Einstein