In the Southwest corner of Georgia, deep in the thick of peanut country sits a family-owned farm known as White Oak Pastures. The farm’s affable and industrious owner, Will Harris, is continuing his family’s history of raising livestock in this area. But his holistic outlook on animal husbandry has led him to make significant investments in his operation, transforming his humble farm into an award-winning enterprise that sees his animals spend their entire lives on his land. And these days he’s counting pigs among his investments, and using local peanuts to fulfill his natural farming philosophy.
Cattle are a regular fixture on Harris’ farm, and have been since the 1860s. In recent years he’s introduced a variety of other species into his holistic farm ecosystem where the animals mingle alongside one another in rotational grazing. It’s a practice that his ancestors employed during the early days of agriculture, and one that he’s reintroducing as part of his commitment to producing locally-raised, pastured meat. And though he doesn’t grow them, peanuts have become a substantial part of Harris’ fifth-generation farm. His inspiration to start using them was the addition of pigs to his animal mix.
The Peanuts Make the Pig
In 2014 Harris decided to import Iberian pigs, a highly regarded breed that yields high-end ham called jamón ibérico. “We had the opportunity to import 30 pure bred Iberian pigs. It was the first Iberian pig to be brought into the United States for over 100 years,” he said. Spanish laws have until recently prohibited the live export of the prized Iberian pig. So when the opportunity came available to acquire some, Harris saw the possibility to make the gourmet ham state-side.
Edwards Smokehouse in Virginia has been producing peanut-fed Serrano-style ham for several years, but Harris’ import of Spanish hogs positions him to produce a truer version of the gourmet meat. Harris says “there are three things that make Serrano ham.”
First, it comes from an Iberian pig. “The second thing is the Old World, European dry-curing methods that go to cure the meat,” says Harris. And the third is the diet of the pig, which traditionally consists of acorns that the pigs forage for under Spanish oak groves called dehesas. He asserts that “it is the fat profile of the acorns that creates the great, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth flavor of Serrano ham.”
Georgia doesn’t have oak groves, but Harris thought a better local option for the pigs could be peanuts. After consulting with a pig nutritionist and an eighth generation Iberian pig farmer in Spain, Will decided that peanuts would be a nutritious and flavorful food for his pigs’ diets. And so with the pigs came the peanuts.
Harris’ hogs are fed locally-sourced peanut paste as part of their regular diet, which also consists of non-GMO feed and eggs from his hens that would otherwise be discarded due to minor defects. As part of Harris’s sustainable philosophy, he declares that nothing goes to waste on his farm. Even the the hulls of the peanuts get used.
Peanuts on Other Parts of the Farm
Inspired by the idea of having the animals spend their entire lives on the farm, several years ago Harris decided to construct an abattoir for both red meat and poultry. He uses peanut hulls to mix with the meat scraps and turn it into compost for their organic garden. The peanut by-products are also used as bedding for the chicken houses which are composted along with the waste. And the chickens and turkeys are fed peanuts as well.
In fact, Harris is proud to use peanuts as a source of local, natural feed for several of his animal species. “I’m located in the heart of the peanut production area of the United States. It’s certainly a local product; it’s a GMO-free source of energy and protein,” says Harris.
And peanuts are a perfect contribution to his responsible farming philosophy. “A farmer should be ever vigilant to constantly observe and emulate natural systems and the way nature has produced food for us,” says Harris. “Peanuts give me the opportunity to feed a natural diet to my poultry and my hogs.” It is thanks to his Spanish pigs that Harris has gone whole hog for peanuts as a natural fit for his farm.