Will Harris’s cowboy hat stands out in a room full of bareheaded people. His grass-fed beef stands out, too. The judges took a few juicy bites of his rib eye recipe and awarded him overall winner of the second annual Flavor of Georgia food products contest.
“I just had a very lucky day,” Harris said. “There were no losers in that room. I have immense respect for any entrepreneur who takes the risk to produce food to market outside of the industrial complex.”
At an award ceremony swirling with colors, contestants and flavors at the Georgia Freight Depot in Atlanta on March 18, Harris, who hales from Bluffton, Ga., talked about what makes his beef tasty and his cows happy.
“Our grass-fed beef is certified humane by Humane Farm Animal Care,” he said. “It’s an artesian product, in that it’s produced the way beef was produced before the industrialization of the American beef business.”
Since 1866, the Harris family has raised cattle on their farm, White Oak Pastures. They are building a processing plant on the farm, which recently received its organic certification.
“It’s the largest certified organic farm in Georgia,” he said. “We take no shortcuts.”
“Will is the perfect example of a food entrepreneur that has taken a food niche and grown it, providing economic opportunity and development in the state of Georgia in the process,” said John McKissick, director of the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development.
The Flavor of Georgia contest showcases food products made in Georgia. This year, the contest drew 150 entries as diverse as organic sweet tea, a sweet pepper dressing, glazed peanuts and a sloppy Joe sauce alternative.
“We had a very good variety, a lot of new, innovative products and a lot of good entrepreneurs behind them,” McKissick said.
“Finalists used the event to network and come up with some creative ideas for future products,” said Sharon Kane, a UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences food business specialist and director of the contest. “Participation throughout the state was excellent this year.”
Harris took grand prize and first place in the meat category. Laura Darnall of Savannah won in the candy category with Candy Clay Dough, a multicolored moldable taste treat.
In the natural or organic category, Eleanor Rhangos of Savannah won for the Savannah Bee Company 100% Pure Artisanal Sourwood Honeycomb. In jams, jellies and sauces, Jan and Joel Coffee of Savannah claimed top honors with Dr. Pete’s Praline Mustard Glaze.
Top honors in barbecue and hot sauces went to Sue Sullivan of Atlanta for Hot Squeeze, a sweet gourmet kick in the taste buds. In the wine category, Mary Ann Hardeman of Clayton repeated her last year’s victory with a different vintage -- Persimmon Creek Vineyards Seyval Blanc.
In snack foods, James and Bertha Carter of Alma delivered a crunchy winner with Rockingham Fried Pecans. And in the dairy category, Ricky Sparkman and Kelvin Spurlock milked top honors with their fresh butter and milkshake-thick chocolate milk.
James Dault of Canton won the miscellaneous category with his Sweetwater Growers Infused Roasted Garlic Basil Oil.
For more information on the annual contest, go to the Flavor of Georgia Web site www.caed.uga.edu.