Jenni Harris

"It's a lot of hard work. Finding the hard-working, good honest people is a must, because you can't do it alone. If you don't love it, then don't try this at home."

NAME: Jenni Harris  

AGE:  27

HOME TOWN:  Bluffton, GA

CURRENT RESIDENCE:  Bluffton, GA

FARM NAME & LOCATION:  White Oaks Pastures, Bluffton


FAVORITES:

  • Music: Sounds so boring, but I like to listen to CNN
  • Food: Newest favorite is a Chorizo stuffed guinea leg from my Pavilion. I love a guinea hen.
  • Drinks: Sweet tea
  • Blue Jeans: Anything that fits!
  • Thing to do AFTER work: My girlfriend and I have 3 dogs, and I just love sitting on our front porch with our dogs.
  • Mantra: My Dad’s saying is “Never give up, never give in.” That would be one of the best things to describe what he has past down to me.
What's your relationship status?

Seriously involved.

Do you have children?

No, but 3 dogs that might as well be children.

Where is the farthest you have traveled to? Where would you like to go?

I studied abroad in Germany; that’s the farthest. I would love to go to South Africa or Australia, they’re on my bucket list to see the agriculture, scenery, general economy. To me they’re just very interesting places.

What is your attitude about money?

I am far more frugal and a lot less of a risk taker than my father. I’m a tightwad for sure. Big risk, big reward? NO, but I’m lucky to work for my father who’s balls to the walls. He’s ‘Big risk, big reward – whatever we got to do.’ We balance each other out.

I’m a tightwad for sure. Big risk, big reward? NO, but I’m lucky to work for my father who’s balls to the walls.

How did you get into farming?

I am the 5th generation of White Oak Pastures so my interest in farming is can be directly correlated to a very strong and healthy bond with my father. Growing up, agriculture wasn’t anything that I took a lot of interest in, but I had a very dear and deep respect for my Dad. Seems I ended up following him around and being his sidekick, which in turn helped me develop a passion for agriculture.

How many acres is the farm?

We have 1500 that we own and about another 2,000 that we lease.

What was the hardest part getting started?

The hardest part was during the dark days, which is what my dad calls them. That’s when we first built the plant and had bills to pay and we were not selling a lot of beef. I was working for Buckhead Beef, and my dad would not let me come back to the farm until he thought it was going to be able to pay for his way, and ours. Until he felt comfortable about bringing his kids back, he said you need to work away from the farm, which was the rule that I had to follow, along with graduating from college. Then he gave me the green light in June 2010.

He also describes 3 legs on a stool – production, processing and sales. And all 3 of those have to rise and fall together. Because if any one leg jolts up in the air or drops to the floor, the other 2 legs can’t stand on their own. So balancing all 3 – has to be intact. I celebrated 4 years this past June as a full-time employee.

What surprised you about farming?

Farming historically to me was the industrial row crop industry, which is very few people over mass amounts of land, and for White Oak Pastures it’s more so the opposite. We have 110 people working here everyday. So it’s helped me to develop a very healthy social life. I never really thought of the farming community as being a real friendly community because my idea of it was not exactly what we did.

My dad was a fertilizer salesman. So the farmers that I knew were guys that owned 10k acres, with not a lot of people involved. But our farm is very labor intensive. So with that you bring in people who are hardworking, and I guess my surprise is that they are really great people. As a result of that, all of the employees are like my family. So agriculture is an extension of my family. This is a very young work force, because it’s so labor intensive. Everything is done by a man with a knife, not a machine. So the people that qualify are all young strong fit men and women.

All of the employees are like my family. So agriculture is an extension of my family.

Tell us about a day on the farm:

I am the low man on the totem pole, and I’m completely comfortable with that. I get up at 5, get in at 6 and I’m pretty much at my desk for the rest of the day. I don’t get to get on the tractor and do the sexy stuff. Fortunately, and unfortunately, I am the one behind the computer. Most of my work is geared more towards marketing and sales, versus production in the field and the plant. I’m usually finished at 6pm. I'm negotiating freight rates , negotiating with Verizon to get better plans, designing visitor maps for the farm. I’m never finished… a very small portion is marketing, but it’s everybody job’s on the farm to market. We sell things for a living. To a certain extent everybody markets.

What makes you happy in a day on the ranch?

The people that I get to work with, doing what they’re supposed to do, and what none of us think of as work, but rather an opportunity that we get to revisit everyday. It’s very fulfilling, people are happy. It's a very unique workplace. There’s just a great balance. I live on the farm, so I have this really great feeling that I never leave home all day. I don’t have to drive and fight traffic. I roll out of bed, shower, drive a mile down the road, so I feel like I never leave home. Many people say home is their happy place. I get to be home everyday.

The people that I get to work with, doing what they’re supposed to do, and what none of us think of as work, but rather an opportunity that we get to revisit everyday.

What makes you frustrated?

I was working with the damn copying machine and that sucks. Low man on the totem pole! I guess it’s missed opportunities. I could have had things fixed before now, but I put it off and now it’s not working and we can’t print orders.

Any lessons learned on the farm?

In reference to time, speak loud, blunt and clear. If you don’t, you’ll be beating around the bush for the rest of your life, repeating yourself. My default answer to questions was, “Yes, of course!” But that’s not true. I spent the first year here saying yes, then staying up at night trying to figure out how to make it work even when I couldn't. To be blunt, honest, speak with clarity. That saves a ton of time and frustration. I spent so much time trying to push a string that was impossible to push.

In reference to time, speak loud, blunt and clear. If you don’t, you’ll be beating around the bush for the rest of your life, repeating yourself.

What do you think a big misconception is about farming or farmers?

It’s the issues around transparency. There’s a lack of respect for transparency of farms. Marketers feel that they can put more words on a package instead of just being transparent.

It is so important in telling folks how farms operate and why there are differences between different farms, but then you still will have farmers who refuse to work through transparency. So if a large company that’s been accused of inhumane slaughtering practices, if they don’t let people come in and visit their “kill floor,” then that’s not transparent. My belief is that running a farm with transparency makes marketing it a whole lot easier. If there are questions about production practices, then people need to come and investigate. Like us, we’re considered a larger farm in the local food movement. We have both a red meat and poultry abattoir. If you have a question on how our animals are slaughtered, just come and look! We operate with transparency, which answers a lot of those uncomfortable questions.

And another big misconception is farming is a big sexy trend. It’s not a trend, it’s a real career path. And it’s not just cows or vegetables. There are all different types of farming. I guess there are two sides to that, the pragmatic side that believes that it’s not authentic unless it’s done on a very small scale in your backyard. And then the other side, that has no respect for the transparency of farms.

Any advice to other farmers/ranchers?

It’s a lot of hard work. Finding the hard-working, good honest people is a must. Because you can’t do it alone. If you don’t love it, then don’t try this at home.

It’s a lot of hard work. Finding the hard-working, good honest people is a must. Because you can’t do it alone. If you don’t love it, then don’t try this at home.

Anything to say to people who aren’t farmers?

Know your farmer, which is so caddy. It’s been so overused, but farming needs to be relationship oriented. When you vote with your dollar for food, it’s a big deal. Everything you put in your body is a big deal. You want a relationship with your doctors, your kids’ school teachers, you want a relationship with your county commissioner. Your farming shouldn’t be any different. It’s relationship driven.

What concerns you the most about the future of farming?

The fact that the age of farmers is median age is quite old so there needs to be more folks my age coming into the scene. What concerns me most is the aging average population of farmers and the younger generation taking control. Because there’s a lot to learn from the older farmers, and my generation needs to step it up and learn from this generation. Whether they agree or not with them, there’s stuff to learn and we need to step up to the plate and bridge that barrier.

Where do you think you'll be in 5 or 10 years? It wouldn’t piss me off one bit if I was sitting here at the same desk doing the same thing 5, 10 or 50 years from now. I hope that I am still sitting at my same desk doing exactly what I’m doing with the same people that I’m doing it with right now. I’d be completely happy. I love the people I work with, my work family, my blood family.