As a graduate student, Ashley Turner (MS ’05) cut her teeth in game management by studying red-tailed hawks inhabiting the historic quail hunting grounds of the Jones Center at Ichauway. Her first job after graduating was a good fit, managing for game populations at the sprawling W.C. Bradley Farms outside Columbus, Georgia.
But in the past decade or so, her expertise has grown wider and deeper, encompassing agricultural practices and conservation as the company-owned farm property explores new avenues. While the property still sees hunting and timber operations, sustainable agriculture has also become a priority—and Turner is proud to be a part of it.
“I’ve had time to do the wildlife and game management, be a community member, plus a mother of three. My interest in wildlife conservation and community has funneled me to a world of sustainable agriculture,” says Turner. “So, while I’m not doing game management work every day, I’m working in the world of healthy agriculture. Healthy agriculture is good for everybody.”
The farm, owned by the W.C. Bradley Co., has been part of the company since its founding in the 1880s. What started as a cotton farm and agricultural supply business has since evolved into a company focused on outdoor products and services—Char-Broil, Zebco and Lamplight products all fall under its purview. It’s also a company that looks to give back to its community, and so not long after turner was hired, the farm began looking differently at its agriculture production.
Today, the farm grows certified organic products on more than 200 acres and also holds a conservation easement on 5,500 acres. A visitor-friendly garden, complete with chickens, pigs and goats, supplies an in-house community-supported agriculture program for W.C. Bradley employees. Turner and her coworkers are making inroads in marketing certified organic grain, peanuts and industrial hemp.
“We joke that the visitors’ garden is like a magazine spread in Garden & Gun, and then we have another area, which is not necessarily where you would take a tour, but it’s where the real acreage is happening,” she says. “And, I think, the real change. I believe in sustainable agriculture, and it’s going to take big properties to make it a business and for it to make an impact. Our local farms are feeding people, but we also need the big, large-scale organic agriculture.”
Turner pursued a master’s degree from Warnell because she wanted to work outside. While she never considered working in agriculture, she now sees the connection between healthy growing practices and wildlife management. “Because of my wildlife conservation, good-quality game management, my interest in large-scale land use my community needing a local food source—and wanting to feed my kids healthy food,” she says. “All these things have funneled me into this agriculture path.”