On April 1, 2019 Mr. Will Harris, fourth-generation cattleman and owner of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia was presented with the UGA Small Business Development Center’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The award is sponsored by Cadence Bank, N.A., and Senior Vice President Ruby Lalani along with UGA President Jere Morehead presented it to Mr. Harris at the University of Georgia’s Public Service and Outreach Awards luncheon in Athens. Mr. Harris became a client of the SBDC mid-2000’s. Working the same land that his great-grandfather settled in 1866, Harris now operates the farm in nearly the same way as well, after transforming his industrial farm into one of the largest grass-fed, pasture-raised livestock operations in the country.
Since beginning the radical transformation in 1995, Harris has expanded his animal footprint beyond cattle to a variety of species, with chickens, goats, turkeys, hogs, ducks, sheep and more cohabitating and freely roaming the 3,200-acre farm. About 80 bald eagles also roost on the property, the largest collection of the federally-protected animal in the state of Georgia.
When Harris decided to add a meat processing plant to his farm in the mid-2000s he turned to the UGA Small Business Development Center for assistance. SBDC consultants helped Harris, a 1976 graduate of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, launch a beef processing plant in 2008, followed by a chicken processing plant in 2010. White Oak Pastures is the only farm in the country with federally approved slaughterhouses for both poultry and mammals.
White Oak Pastures beef is sold from Miami, Florida, to Princeton, New Jersey, gracing the plates of fine restaurants and grocery stores. Not wanting to waste anything, Harris also has created a business out of the typically unused parts of his cattle, with the hide turned into leather goods or pet rawhides, the fat into tallow used to make soaps, salves, candles and moisturizers, and even the bones and other inedible material into compost for fertilizer.
Winner of the Georgia Organics Land Steward Award in 2016, the Growing Green Award in 2014, the Governor’s Award for Environmental Stewardship in 2011, and UGA’s Award of Excellence in 2008, Harris has expanded his operation to include on-property cabins for agritourism. He also recently opened his own general store, the first retail store to open in Bluffton in more than 40 years.
Additionally, Harris hosts researchers from across the country to study the multi-species grazing practices utilized at White Oak Pastures, while also making himself available to speak with visiting individuals and groups to share his farming methods and business experience.
Want more? Click here to learn how the UGA SBDC helped Will Harris grow White Oak Pastures.