Over the last 25 years, White Oak Pastures has transitioned from a conventional agricultural model to regenerative agriculture. Adopting new land management practices has been better for our animals and our soil, making our farm more resilient and abundant over time.
But regenerative agriculture has also led to many other wonderful, unintended consequences. For example, by following holistic grazing practices, we have seen huge improvements like better erosion control or the return of healthy local wildlife populations.
The transition to regenerative agriculture has also had an enormous impact on our rural community. We’ve proven, over the last two decades, that regenerative agriculture is good for the land, the animals, and the people in our community.
Our farm is located in the town of Bluffton (population 103), which is in Clay County, Georgia.
Recent census stats show that Clay County has a median household income of $22,325 (in 2019 dollars). Clay County has one of the lowest median household incomes of any county in all 50 states. The Census Bureau also reports the “persons in poverty” percentage at 28.8% in Clay County (the nationwide average was 10.5% in 2019).
We write payroll checks for almost $100,000, every Friday, in Clay County. White Oak Pastures is the largest private employer in the county, with around 180 employees and growing. Our employees live in other nearby counties as well, like Early County and Calhoun County, but all these salaries are being spent in our region.
Our payroll goes directly into the economy of one of the poorest counties, in one of the poorest states in our country. Beyond payroll, our farm and processing plants also pour millions of dollars per year into our local economy.
We believe we are building opportunities in this region–and we can trace it in the growth of our own company.
When we started scaling our farm operations, we hired most of our managers from out-of-town. Now, our management team includes more local managers than out-of-town managers. Our farm has a clear pipeline for employees to learn skill sets and move up in their positions.
As Will Harris describes,
“I did not intentionally change our farm's relationship with Bluffton, our village. But... the impact these changes had on the town were as significant as the improvements that I saw with the land and animals.
Industrial, commodity, centralized farming had rendered our town economically irrelevant. A community that had been prosperous for almost a century and a half became impoverished in less than half that amount of time. The town simply was not needed any more. And, sadly, this happened to thousands of farm communities all over America.
But – we figured it out by accident. The new kinder and gentler farm production model caused the town to be economically relevant again. Bringing in a hundred educated, energetic, and passionate people to work on our farm changed the entire dynamic. These people needed a place to shop, eat, drink, play, and sleep. The town evolved from a ghost town to a thriving little community.
It was a literal rural revival. And it only took a decade to do it.”