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Take Highway 80 West out of Savannah and drive until the strip malls and gas stations begin to fade. Keep going until the houses become fewer and the world becomes overwhelmingly green. After an hour, ease off of the highway and take a pasture-lined county road to the Hunter Cattle Company, home of some of the South’s finest beef, pork and poultry. There’s a sign, of course, but you’ll know you are there when the hum of traffic gives way to the buzz of cicadas, a farmhouse and a small country store with an old pickup truck in front. “That was my granddaddy’s truck, a 1954 Ford,” says Hunter Cattle Company owner and operator Del Ferguson. Ferguson also mentions that the gravel road that runs between the store and some of his pastureland was once the main highway through the area. Though much has changed in the world since those days, Ferguson works hard to honor that tradition. “We wanted to be as natural as an old farm,” says Ferguson, who adds with a laugh that he does compromise when it comes to using a tractor over a horse-drawn plow.
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A true family operation, Ferguson has run the farm since 2003 with his wife, Debra, their youngest son, Hunter, their oldest son, Anthony, and daughter, Kristen, who also live and work on the farm with families of their own. For Ferguson, who was raised on a small family farm in Appling County, Georgia, Hunter Cattle Company represents the realization of a lifelong dream. After 25 years of operating his own business in the Savannah area, Ferguson, along with his family, began the farm with the goal of raising quality animals. “We try to do it like it was a hundred years ago,” says Ferguson, who was inspired to pursue an all-natural, grass-fed, free-range approach to farming after his wife read about the health benefits associated with eating meat from naturally raised animals. Hunter Cattle Company, and several other local farmers with whom they partner, operates under the guidelines of the American Grassfed Association and the organization Animal Welfare Approved. Under these guidelines, all the animals on the farm—pigs, chickens, cows, or even the turkeys currently being raised for Thanksgiving—receive no growth hormones, antibiotics or processed grains, and are free to move throughout the pasture. According to the American Grassfed Association, some of the health benefits of grass-fed beef include higher contents of Vitamin A, CLAs, Omega-3 fatty acids and a dramatically lower risk of E. coli. As Ferguson puts it, “It’s better for the animals; it’s healthier for us as far as consuming it, and it’s better for the environment and the land.” But for Ferguson, the benefits are endless. “People have a disconnect with their life and where their food is coming from,” says Ferguson. “Part of my job is trying to educate people about where their food comes from and why it should be done the natural way.” And to that end, the Fergusons love visitors and host events throughout the year, such as Farm Day tours during summer months and a true Southern farm supper each spring and fall. “We’ve got some people that come out here and they just sit on the porch, and I don’t even ask them if they want to buy anything,” says Ferguson. In the small office of the farm’s country store, Ferguson beams with genuine satisfaction as a voicemail plays and the speaker relays how much a recent customer enjoyed some steaks. “Now that makes it worth it right there” says Ferguson enthusiastically. “Even if we aren’t getting rich, it don’t matter if we are able to do it for those people.” While the Fergusons make their meats available to Coastal Georgia through a variety of venues, from farmers markets like the one in Forsyth Park to some of Savannah’s most popular restaurants like Green Truck Pub to stores like Brighter Day Natural Foods, it is worth it to take the opportunity to see life out at Hunter Cattle Company—even if you just need a quiet porch to sit on for a while.
WRITTEN BY Mike Kelly