Chances are you’re either serving or consuming turkey this Thanksgiving,just like 88% percent of Americans. And, if you’re like us, you probably want to make sure the turkey you’re eating was treated with compassion during its short life. If so, a pasture-raised turkey from a regenerative farm likeWhite Oak Pasturesin Bluffton, Georgia, just might be your new holiday go-to. (And there’s another bonus when you buy a White Oak Pastures bird, but we’ll get to that later! Just keep reading…)
Trust us, once you taste a roasted pasture-raised turkey, you'll probably never want to eat a factory-farmed, supermarket bird again. Pasture-raised turkeys are juicier because they take longer to raise and develop more extensive fat deposits. Most supermarket turkeys, on the other hand, are Broad Breasted White turkeys bred on factory farms. They are given antibiotics and synthetic vitamins that unnaturally promote faster fat development in order to gain weight quickly and develop shorter, larger breasts. Unfortunately, this makes them flightless, overweight, prone to die from poor health and unable to reproduce without artificial insemination.
A passion for pasture-raised
With any pasture-raised turkey, particularly the ones found at White Oak Pastures, you can expect rich flavors, even nutty ones due to the bird’s consumption of acorns and other foraged nuts. The meat will be darker with a silky texture. Thanks to months roaming freely, the turkey will eat a complex, healthy, natural diet of bugs, grubs, worms and native vegetation.
At White Oak Pastures, the turkeys’ supplemented grains contain no genetically modified organisms. The results are complex with authentic flavors that taste as turkey should.
So, what else influences how the White Oak Pastures’ birds taste? Their upbringing. It's more than just the genetics of heritage birds. It comes down to the nature versus nurture debate. White Oak Pastures’ turkeys have both of these factors going for them.
Why compassionate farming makes a difference
White Oak Pastures’ turkeys are superior to factory-farmed turkeys in every way. The pasture-raised holiday birds sold by White Oak Pastures are the Nicholas Black heritage breed, a descendant of the Spanish Black heritage turkey. These turkeys are part of the regenerative farm model at White Oak Pastures; meaning they have the ability to amble around the farm and express natural behaviors. These turkeys spend their lives outside in the fresh air and sunshine, free to roost and roam the fields and forests.
The Nicholas Blacks are certified non-GMO, certified humane and certified Ecological Outcome Verified via the nonprofit Savory Institute’s scientific protocol. The farm never administers antibiotics, nor are they given added growth hormones and steroids, so the birds gain weight naturally, 14 to 22 pounds over 24 to 26 weeks compared to just 16 to 20 weeks for feedlot birds.
At White Oak Pastures, turkeys are slaughtered and butchered humanely by hand at the abattoir with as little stress to the birds as possible. The concern is for the welfare of the bird, not the speed of the process.
The man who started it all
Standing in a lush field, casting his eyes across an endless horizon of blue sky and grazing cattle, Will Harris III, White Oak Pastures' owner, will tell you he's a cowboy and steward of the land and livestock. Clad in a sweat-rimmed, beat-up old Stetson and faded denim, you'd believe his disarming understatement. It's classic Will Harris.
White Oak Pastures' 3,000 acres are the picture of farming in harmony with nature, and this 150-year-old family farm is Harris' heart and his laboratory. The soil is teeming with life because he has, in just 20 years, successfully reversed decades of environmental damage caused by post-World War II chemical-driven agriculture.
He researched how to save his farm and improve the health of the land and the animals, first, by reaching backward and implementing traditional farming methods used by his family for nearly a century, and then by delving deeper into the science and benefits of regenerative farming.
So, let’s look closer at regenerative farming
Regenerative agriculture is a holistic approach that focuses on the health of the soil and its ability to regenerate the productivity of crops and livestock. "For us, regenerative agriculture means we leave the land and the system better off every year we operate," explains Harris.
But don't let this laconic response fool you. Harris studied agriculture at the University of Georgia and has successfully combined his education, passion for the land and hard work to make White Oak Pastures a leader in the regenerative farming movement. White Oak Pastures also boasts a zero-waste production system that utilizes each part of the animals that are pasture-raised and hand-butchered on the farm.
This harmonious blend of old and new farming techniques is at the heart of what Harris calls "radically traditional farming," an approach dedicated to three core values:animal welfare, land regeneration andrural revitalization.
Central to the ethos at the farm is their strict adherence to allow livestock to express their instinctive behaviors with open pasture grazing and foraging. "White Oak Pastures successfully and profitably supports100,000 beating heartsof healthy, thriving, contented livestock," says Harris with pride in his voice.
Be a part of the revolution
What makes the farm so ground-breaking among other American farms is its off-the-charts carbon sequestration, as revealed in alife cycle studythat shows White Oak Pastures sequesters more carbon in its soil than its cattle emit in their lifetime. If implemented across agriculture, Harris' regenerative farming model could single-handedly reinvent farming and livestock management, repair the damage of factory farms and fight climate change.
White Oak Pastures’ core value statement says, "If there was ever a time to know your farmer, it is now. There's never been more focus on the supply chain … ," and this is why what you buy is as important as who sells it. Buying a pasture-raised turkey helps make regenerative farming, which is expensive and labor-intensive, more economically viable, and your purchase supports and amplifies practical solutions to the climate crisis.