Fred Greer's favorite tree is the mighty white oak.
“I love the white oak,” Greer said. “It’s the best wood for lumber, it’s the most beautiful tree, it’s clean, it produces the best and most favorite acorn for all the wildlife.”
Many of these tall trees point high into the sky on Greer's 530 acre tree and cattle farm, located near Mansfield. Greer grows dozens of acres of Loblolly Pines to sell as pulp wood and lumber. He also keeps beef cattle on several pastures strategically scattered throughout the property. Between the clumps of pines he farms and the cattle pastures, there are fenced off areas that serve as refuges for local wildlife, including wild turkeys, deer and horned owls — just to name a few.
Greer's secret is a simple one — he makes the best use of the land that he can. From careful management of the trees, the grasses, the clovers and the animals, he is able to create a vibrant, self-sustaining eco-system within the borders of the farm.
The circle of conservation
Making the best use of his land, and being environmentally friendly is fundamentally important to Greer.
“‘Green’ is a very important part of everything we do. It affects the health and well-being as a community, as a nation, for the people and for our kids. Everything comes from the soil, the water and natural resources. Everything.”
The first thing Greer has to do is make sure the land is being used to the best of its capabilities. Rocky areas of his land with thick red clay below the ground become the plots where his Loblolly pines are planted. Flatter areas with more loamy soil become grasslands where his cattle are free to roam and graze. The areas between these two zones are fenced off and allowed to grow freely, to serve as refuges and bedding areas for local wildlife.
Within each of these zones, Greer works constantly to keep the land as healthy and productive as possible. His pine growing areas are carefully tended to ensure the trees grow tall and straight. Every few years, the plot is thinned by cutting some of the trees down to allow the remaining trees to grow larger. The smaller trees are sold to be ground into wood pulp. At the end of a growing cycle for a particular plot, the trees are cut down and made into plywood boards. The land is then replanted for future generations of trees to begin their own growth. Greer often uses the seeds of the parent trees to grow the new ones.
The cattle fields are also treated with careful love. Grasses are allowed to grow long while the cattle are in other pastures, and he doesn't allow the cattle to crop it too low before he moves them to greener pastures. There are two reasons for this – the first is that the tall ends of the grass are the most nutritious part of the plant, as well as the most easy digestible, ensuring the cattle get the best out of what they eat.
The second reason is that mites and eggs of other internal parasites tend to live closer to the ground. By having tall grass to munch on, Greer ensures his cattle stay away from parasites, as well as their own manure, which may make the animals sick. It is important, Greer says, to keep his cattle happy.
These are happy cattle. They all approach him whenever he enters one of their fields, and follow him and his truck around as he drives through. He says that they recognize him, even when he's driving down the road outside their pastures.
“They all perk up their heads and watch me,” he says.
He's also sure his cattle would follow him anywhere. “They'd follow me to five points in Atlanta if I let them,” he said.
In addition to grasses, Greer keeps a supply of rich clover growing in the pastures for the animals to eat. The cattle love it, and it has the bonus effect of ionizing the soil, restoring the rich nutrients to the ground the grass needs to grow, negating the need for fertilizer. The clover also helps give the cattle the nutrients they need to stay healthy and grow large.
The local wildlife also very much likes the clover. Greer says that deer are constantly feeding there, and he's only too ready to welcome them to his land.
“The deer love the stuff,” he says. “I’m proud to say we have virtually every kind of wildlife on this property.”
Greer keeps several areas reserved entirely for the wildlife. He doesn't allow others to hunt on his land, making it a haven for local wildlife looking to graze and raise their young. He has built birdhouses, planted areas full of thick vegetation to act as bedding, and even brought in apple and pear trees to provide for the animals.
He has also planted several new forests between his pastures up to the road, giving the deer somewhere to cross where they won't be in danger of poachers — hunters driving slowly down the roads looking to shoot deer from their trucks.
According to Greer, every type of animal — mammals, reptiles, fish and birds — that is native to Newton County can be found on his land
Life as a farmer
Greer's family came to Newton County in the 1820s. Since then, six generations of farmers have tended the land. From the family's humble beginning as sharecroppers, Greer has slowly accumulated 530 acres of farmland - one piece at a time.
“I learned everything I know from my father,” Greer said. “He taught me how to care for the land.”
Greer and his wife Peggy run the farm largely unassisted. Peggy handles the farm's finances and keeps the numbers in line. Fred spends his time, seven days a week, tending to different areas of the farm. According to Greer, there's always something to work on.
Greer was awarded the Georgia Forestry Association’s Wise Owl award in 2009 for his services to Georgia's forestry community. He was also awarded second place for stewardship in the southeast region in the 2007 National Cattlemen’s Association awards and was inducted into the Georgia Agriculture Hall of Fame in 1997.
But Greer is quick to point out that he doesn't do this for the awards or the money.
“I want to make something of God’s creation better than I found it,” Greer said. “We’re passing through, we’re just stewards of the land. We didn’t come here with it, we’re not going to leave with it. He built a beautiful creation for us to enjoy, and I just want to care for it while I’m going through.”