One Man's Journey From Industrial Factory Farmer to Sustainable, Regenerative Farmer (Video)
In the film, One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts, filmmaker Peter Byck takes viewers to Bluffton, Georgia to hear from Will Harris of White Oak Pastures about his journey from industrial to re-generational farmer. This is the second film in Byck’s Carbon Nation: Soil Carbon Cowboy series; it continues to highlight farmers and ranchers who are pioneering regenerative grazing practices and soil health.
Harris opens the film reflecting on his journey, “When I was a full-time commodity cowboy, all I thought about was how many pounds of beef I could squeeze out of this farm at the lowest possible price, with no real focus except pounds of beef and how cheap I could do it. Today I never ever think about how many pounds we consume. What I think about all day every day is how can I make this land up.”
Harris, who was born and bred at White Oaks, has transitioned his family’s farm from one focused on industrialized beef production to a farm that focuses on sustainability, animal welfare, and humane agricultural and environmental stewardship.
“The first thing I gave up was confinement feed and hormone implants and antibiotics,” he told Modern Farmer in an interview. “I thought that that’s all I had to do. Then I realized pesticides and chemical fertilizers were wrong, so I stopped using them. And then I realized that we needed to be butchering animals on the farm and not moving them, so we built an abattoir, and I thought we were done. But then I realized we were still running a monoculture-- a meat monoculture and a plant monoculture-- and to my mind, when you’ve got a monoculture, that’s a sign of a factory farm.”
To transition White Oak Pastures back to its heritage, Harris de-commoditized, de-industrialized, and de-centralized his farming practices, creating a living ecosystem that he takes pride in managing every day.
“Today we don’t feed animals; we feed the microbes in the soil. The microbes feed the soil, and the soils feed the plants and the plants feed the animals, and they breed, and they grow, and we turn them into meat and sell it for money which is like the blood that pumps through our bodies to keep it all going,” says Harris in the film. “It’s really a beautiful system. What’s most beautiful is that in every generation the animals are healthier and healthier, happier and happier.”
According to Harris, “There’s about a hundred thousand beating hearts on this farm on any given day,” that, while may not be enough to feed the world, are certainly enough to nourish his community. “In rebuilding the soil, we are rebuilding a farmer middle class,” says Harris, another area in which he is passionate about supporting.
Watch the film clip: