Go, Green, Go

by Betty Fussell

For a hawk’s-eye view of what’s happening in Green Beef, check out Will Harris on a new DVD called “CUD.”

Produced by Southern Foodways Alliance and Whole Foods, the documentary title says it all, but you gotta pronounce it the way Will does, “COULD.”

Will’s accent is thick as red clover in May at White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Ga., where I visited him a couple of weeks ago. Not an easy place to get to — nor to leave. His great-granddaddy brought cows to this spot near the Florida border in 1866, and his family’s grazed them here ever since.

To get here you fly to Atlanta, drive south for three hours, and watch Piedmont turn into Coastal Plains. Cows love it. And Will loves cows.

Also wildlife. I find him in his office feeding pieces of raw beef heart to an injured red-tail hawk. His office is part of his new processing plant, where he turns his cows into steaks.

Recently I ate some of those at the James Beard House around the corner from me in Manhattan. They’d been cooked by chef Linton Hopkins from Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta. This is why the story “CUD” tells is important. Small-scale processing supplies the missing link in that ever-greening path from farm to table.

Will bet his 1,000-acre farm on the plant, which enables him to sell to the Southern Region of Whole Foods, from Miami, Fla., to Princeton N.J. Small scale means control. Where industrial processors slaughter 5,000 cows an hour, Will does 5,000 a year. Control means not just the mantra of local, organic, humane, safe, sustainable — but the certifiable reality of each of these words.

It’s organic all the way. Zero waste means wash-water is cleaned and piped into the fields. Carcass waste (innards, bones, fat) becomes fertilizer by way of a giant Digester. He’s added chickens to the organicizing process and will soon add the larva of Black Soldier Flies to feed the chicks which feed the grass.

Grass is not just an edible carpet for cows but also for the horses grazing by his house, across the road from the plant, and next to the house he grew up in where his mama lives still. His three daughters will continue the 144 years of this farm’s local sustainable history because they understand their daddy’s vision.

“I began to feel that sending off my calves to the feedlot,” Will says, “was like sending my daughters to a whore-house.”

Watch a short version of “CUD” below, and for a glimpse of real green, visit Will’s website: www.whiteoakpastures.com.

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Posted on May 7, 2010