My Favorite Farmer

If you’ve ever gotten into a conversation with me, I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned my favorite farmer at some point and time.  Will Harris from White Oak Pastures.  He’s not only my favorite farmer.  He’s one of my favorite people, a mentor and friend.  I grew up about 30 miles from Will but our paths never crossed until I was working at Emory Dining at Emory University.  It was my job to search out as much local and sustainable foods that I could find, buy the food and educate the Emory community about the importance of those foods.  That’s how we officially met.  Will is a great teacher filled with passion for what he does and I want to absorb everything he knows so we have great conversations.  I think the mutual love of wine and a good time doesn’t hurt either!

The Jeep is Will's favorite way to tour the farm when it isn't too hot. He's usually joined by Possum the least when Possum isn't on a walk about (looking for the ladies). Yep, he's a lover folks. He will slap a kiss on your face quicker than you would expect.

When I think of sustainable agriculture, I think of Will.  I don’t know anyone else that’s doing it better.  Seriously.  If Will hears of an idea to make his farm more sustainable, his animals happier/healthier or any innovation that would better utilize the available resources in a sustainable manner he doesn’t say we can’t do that.  He says sign me up and let’s figure it out for everyone. 

Awards, certifications, media... They will run out of wall space soon.

The animals at White Oak Pastures – cows, turkeys, chickens, duck, geese, sheep, goats, rabbits and anything else that will work in his Serengeti Plains Grazing Model – are born on the farm and never leave the farm.  That’s right.  There is an on-site beef abattoir and a recently built poultry abattoir right there on the farm.  The only on site farm in the U.S. to have both USDA inspected facilities.  Check out those food miles folks!  Oh yea, did I mention they were designed by internationally recognized animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin

I watched Manny the head butcher from Buckhead Beef in Atlanta break down the entire side of beef by hand in less than 10 minutes. I love this picture.

I could go on forever but no one can tell the story like Will himself.  I am mesmerized by his “Old South” Southern drawl and could listen to him for hours.  Watch this great short film CUD by Joe York to learn more about Will and White Oak Pastures.  Joe has done other short films about agriculture that are worth the view as well.

So Columbus, OH folks.  Why am I telling you this?  Because Will’s daughter Jenni (another equally outstanding person just like her dad) visited last weekend!  She provided tastings of White Oak Pastures chicken at the Whole Foods in Dublin last Saturday.  Whole Foods is a strong supporter of White Oak Pastures and Will and Jenni have played a huge role in their 5 Step Animal Welfare Rating System.  Buy some of the best chicken and grass-fed beef you’ve ever had (and I believe the most sustainable) at the Whole Foods in Dublin or Arlington when you get a chance.   For folks not in OH, you can find White Oak Pastures beef and chicken at Whole Foods locations from Miami, FL to Princeton, NJ so check your meat counter.

Tools of the trade....hook and a knife. Watching Manny with his tools was pure artistry.
It's not just all about the animals. They also look at their facility operations including rain barrels, solar panels, anaerobic digestion, zero waste operation, composting and a new organic vegetable CSA.

When I visit White Oak Pastures, I immediately get a sense of excitement to hang out with Will, Jenni and family on the farm because I know I will learn something new.   Things that seemed so important no longer are and you realize what really means something.   The worries in my life slip away as I am immersed back to my south Georgia roots as we ride through dirt roads just looking at nature….country time just moves slower.  This is my happy place.

If you only click one link in this post, check out CUD.  It won’t disappoint!  Follow White Oak Pastures on Facebook and twitter.


Rumpke Recycling Facility in Columbus, OH

In my circle of friends, you have heard me talk about Rumpke and my comments haven’t always been that fond.   We have a subscription service with Rumpke to pick up our recycling curbside every Thursday.  It’s worth it to us to pay for this service because we want to recycle but with our busy schedules need the convenience of curbside pickup.  Although the relationship has been rocky, I think I am ready to clear the slate and have a fresh start.  For now.

Rumpke will be the new waste and recycling hauler for the Zero Waste operations at the Ohio State University for this upcoming football season.  I was skeptical going into the planning meeting with Rumpke but the representative gave me pause.  To say the least, this gentleman was impressive.  He listened to our obstacles and played an active part in identifying solutions.  He exceeded my expectations and that’s not something that happens very often.  This guy wasn’t being a vendor.  He was a partner.  Something I am sensitive to because of my day job.  

I received an invitation to the kickoff of the City of Columbus Curbside Recycling program  from Corey Hawkey, the Sustainability Coordinator at OSU, and fellow Zero Waste dumpster diver.  The kickoff included a tour of the recycling located facility right here in Columbus off 5th Avenue between High and I-71 area. 

Mayor Coleman speaking about the City of Columbus sustainability goals and how city-wide recycling is part of that long-term plan. I captured the folks in the back blinking. I promise they weren't napping. Sorry guys.

Here are some facts I captured from the day:

  • Columbus wants to reach a 25% diversion rate by 2016 (Diverting waste from the landfill)
  • Rumpke’s recycling facility can recycle 10,000 tons in 10 minutes
  • Rumpke invested $15M into facility upgrades and new equipment in order to handle a commitment to city-wide curbside recycling
  • It is the most advanced recycling operation in the state and maybe US (self-proclaimed, I don’t know)
  • Glass goes to Dayton
  • Some recyclables go to Tennessee and Kentucky.  I missed specifics.

The pictures and explanations that follow won’t do the facility justice.  The overall facility seems about 2 football fields long, about equally as wide with a multitude of conveyor belts going in every direction.  It is organized chaos.  Very impressive.  The room is very loud and the people working there wear ear protection.  I tried to get some details to share with you but I know I missed a lot of information because of the noise volume.  You should inquire about a tour.  It’s totally worth it.

Trucks enter into the Rumpke facility and first stop for the weigh in.
A waterfall of recyclable material comes from the unloading and pre-sorting area on the other side of the wall. It's dumped into this location where conveyors immediately begin the sorting process.


This conveyor takes the recyclable materials onto a conveyor belt for sorting. I think this is where the glass is separated from the other recyclables at this point as well. More on the glass a little later.
As another line of defense to protect equipment and quality of the recyclable materials, workers try to grab contaminates from the fast-moving materials before they move further through the separation process.
It's hard to tell from this picture but what you see happening is the fans on the left side of the picture blow the paper products to the far side of the conveyor belt. Heavier items aren't blown by the air and fall off this angled belt onto a different conveyor for the rest of the ride. You can see those items on another belt below.


This is where air is used to separate plastics. All the plastics come up a conveyor belt where you see the bright light. Puffs of air with a specific pressure is released causing some plastics to continue forward on the conveyor or are pushed backwards to continue a different path. This method is used at other points in the process.



At the end of the tour, the recyclables are picked over again by a team of people. They are grabbing plastic bags that can clog the machinery. The workers lift the bags up to the vacuum pipe above their heads where the plastics bags are sucked away. I don't know where they go and how they are handled from there.


Glass is collected and held in the giant blue bins outside of the facility. It is sorted and processed about once a week. I wish I had more details to share about the glass but that's all I've got!
Rows of compressed and bundled recyclable cubes exit the machinery. They will be stored until they go on the next leg of their journey where I hope they will be recycled into new products. Notice the stacks of aluminum cans in the bag left side.


  Any incorrect facts or inaccuracies were made in error and not intentional. 

Berea College-Local Foods Leader

I’m not sure if many people have heard of Berea College.  Maybe you passed the exit off I-75 so it sounds familiar.  For me, it has been a model of sustainability for years, a school that I placed on a pedestal for their sustainability initiatives and work in local food sourcing but I’ve never visited campus until recently.   

Berea College raised pork locally processed into sausage that is served in the campus dining halls.

So I hopped in the car for the four-hour trip listening to my Spanish lessons along the way.  I hope to learn at least a little Spanish (a commitment I made to myself) before I go to the Dominican Republic for the Sustainable Food Lab Conference.  My goal in visiting Berea was to launch a huge waste reduction initiative that I am very proud of.  But I’m going to save that story for another time.  This time I want to tell you about the other campus sustainability initiatives happening on campus. 

First you should understand that Berea is not your common college.  They are one of only seven colleges that are federally recognized as Work Colleges in the United States.  At a work college, students offset the cost of tuition by working on campus.  Student workers might serve food in the dining hall, maintain campus grounds, haul compost or participate in other forms of labor that varies from college to college but students gain valuable life lessons while reducing college debt.  Students take note!

Student workers loading compost containers from the dining hall and taking them back to the farm where the food waste will be composted. (I'll introduce you to the "friend" I met at the compost piles in due time.)

Caitlin (Cait) McClanahan is one of my heroes.  She is the Sustainability Coordinator for Berea Dining (Sodexo) and makes all of these sustainability initiatives happen.  She is also a lifelong friend of Mary Berry Smith, the daughter of Wendell Berry. Both have done outstanding work in support of sustainable agriculture.  Cait introduced me to Mary a few months ago at a Farm to College Conference hosted by Louisville Farm to Table.  I totally went geeked-out-goofy right there.  I’m pretty sure I embarrassed myself a little.  Sorry Cait.  Sorry Mary.  Consider this my public apology.  But I digress….

My hero and sustainability super star, Cait.


“…. this is such a unique and fortunate opportunity we have here – to be able to source food for students, grown by students, literally steps from our doors. Working in partnership with the Berea College Farm we have a goal of increasing our percentage of farm purchases to 25% by 2015.”






Berea Dining purchases a large amount of their local foods from Berea College Farm but they also purchase from other Kentucky farmers and ranchers.  The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has a great program supporting local purchases called the Kentucky Proud Program along with Restaurant Rewards.  The Restaurant Rewards program reimburses restaurants for Kentucky Proud Purchases up to $12,000.00 per year.  Berea College is currently the only college dining program in the state participating in this program and they received the full $12,000 last year.  Would you like $12,000?  Yes.  Who wouldn’t?  Sign up for the program.  Get rewarded for doing it.  Reinvest those funds right back into the community.  Just do it.

Local ground beef patties with Kentucky Proud certification.

I had a great time on campus.  The team members at Berea College were amazing.  Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met and I had a great time getting to know them all.  I’m sure I will be back to check on the waste reduction program and to visit just because.  I will leave you with some great pictures from my visit so you can see how great they are with your own eyes.   

My favorite moment of the day.... That black fuzzy thing to the left of this picture is a skunk. The skunk had backed its bottom up towards us and took aim just in case. I took this picture not realizing the skunk was there. It would have been a long and stinking ride back home. Oh. And these are compost piles in case you needed explanation.


Bee boxes that pollinate the farm and gardens while providing great honey to the Berea College students in the dining hall.


The Mushroom House. Yes, a house for mushrooms.


Plants started in the greenhouse that will be planted in the garden beds soon.
Thanks for the hospitality Berea College!

Any inaccuracies or misinterpretations in this post was not intentional and were made by me in error.   I’m pretty sure it’s the skunks fault. 

The opinions expressed by My Sustainable Adventures and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Sodexo, Inc., its parent corporation, subsidiaries, or affiliates (collectively referred to as “Sodexo”), or any employee thereof. Sodexo is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by Christy Cook on this Web site.

Earthtouch adventure

I was recently asked to serve as a board member for Earthtouch a not for profit nature preserve in Southeastern Ohio in the Hocking Hills area on about 380 acres of protected woodlands.   There are two patches of land with beaver ponds, prairies, creeks and woodlands.   

After doing some initial research on the organization and property, I knew immediately that I wanted to visit and get a feel for the land.  I invited some of my favorite partners in crime to come along on the road trip – Kate, Paul, Bear, Gust and Callie.  I thought they would help keep me from getting lost.  Well, at least that was the intent.  We got lost anyway but had a great mud filled adventure!

The beginning.

The boys were very excited to be out of the car and able to run around exploring with Callie.

Big smiles from Kate and Paul!

Flora and fauna pictures:

Contrasting colors of the white snow on the dark wood of the tree.

We saw this brightly colored fungus in several places but it really stands out against the wood.  There is also some green grass peaking through the winter brown hinting at the upcoming spring. 

More fungus pictures but I really like the colors.

I like the interesting pattern on the leaf of this plant.

Moss covered tree located next to one of the streams.

This picture brings images to mind of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi River due to pesticide runoff from agriculture.  I also think of the story about Mesopotamia from the book Topsoil and Civilization.  This book was published in 1974 and is now out of print but I discovered it on a top 10 book list about the importance of healthy soil.  I’ll probably do a whole post about the importance of topsoil at some point and this book because I find it very interesting.   Feel free to borrow my book if anyone is interested in reading it.

One of the things that I would like to do is a little property clean up.  We found tires on site and someone seemed to use the yellow 5 gallon buckets as a guide to trails or something similar.   If you are interested in a camping/clean up adventure, let me know.


The boys were troopers on our several hour hike but towards the end mom and dad gave the boys a lift back to the car.

It’s entirely possible that this was the best day of Callie’s life to date.  She had a great time running around with no leash and finding new smells.  She loved it!

Feel free to reach out to me and visit the Earthtouch website if you are interested in visiting the property or have programming ideas that will connect people and nature.

The first board meeting is next week.  I’m looking forward to meeting other members and learning more about Earthtouch.  I’m sure there will be more posts to come!

My newest sustainability adventures

I’ve often considered writing a blog but I’m not a great writer and I didn’t think I had anything people would really want to read.  I recently had a revelation that my assumption just might be wrong.   My revelation was mostly multiple people telling me I was crazy.  That I have the coolest job ever.  That I get to meet awesome people.  Or that I actually make positive change in what I do.  That I inspire others.  You can be the judge if any of that is true or not but I’m going for it!

Just this week, I learned that I received a scholarship from Sodexo’s (my day job) Women’s Network Group (WiNG) to attend the Sustainable Food Laboratory Annual Leadership Summit in the Dominican Republic.  First of all, this scholarship from WiNG is an annual sustainability scholarship given in the memory of a friend that left this Earth too young.  Karen worked diligently to further sustainability initiatives and was an active WiNG member mentoring others in our company.  I consider it an honor to represent her memory.  

The Sustainable Food Lab is an organization that brings stakeholders together to collaboratively drive positive change in the food system.  The theme is Sustainable Sourcing in Global Supply Chains.  The Food Lab creates a safe space for businesses (large and small), NGO’s, farmers and farmer groups to talk about issues and solutions to create a more sustainable supply chain.  I believe everyone has an obligation and value to add in sustainability discussions so I look forward to the opportunity.

However, it is entirely possible, that I might be looking forward to the Learning Journey’s the most.  I’ve chosen to take a learning journey about Community Based Food Systems that delves into rice, bananas, milk and fish.  There’s also a side trip learning about unprocessed salt production….a recent mild obsession of mine.  If for some reason I can’t attend the above particular Learning Journey, I will get to attend Cacao, Agroforestry and Impacts of Sustainability Certification or The Role of Vertical Integration in Sustainable Sugar and Cacao.  Either way…winning!  (Take note Charlie Sheen.)

I believe this is going to be a personal life changing experience and that was the final point for me to start a blog.  In the world of sustainability, you should share what you know with others so they can learn from your experiences, adjust those lessons accordingly and make change in this world.  I’m going to share my experiences so others can join me in trying to leave this Earth better than when I arrived.


The opinions expressed by My Sustainable Adventures and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Sodexo, Inc., its parent corporation, subsidiaries, or affiliates (collectively referred to as “Sodexo”), or any employee thereof. Sodexo is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by Christy Cook on this Web site.