This is a picture of a rose growing here on the farm. She has a story to tell and her story is the reason I bought this rose as a gift for my mother. Today this rose is in a large pot as my mother works on selling the home she lives in. This rose is called Peggy Martin and was named after a woman that had cultivated it handed down from her family but was not available commercially. Only found in Peggy’s garden near New Orleans, when hurricane Katrina covered the rose in 20′ of salt water the family assumed that the plant would have died with the rest of her lush garden. But to her surprise, when the Martins returned after the flood they not only found the rose still living but in bloom. Following the storm the Peggy Martin rose was moved to Washington county Texas and introduced commercially as a benefit to raise money for New Orleans civic gardens to be rebuilt. Cementing her legacy as not only beautiful but resilient.
This thanksgiving more than anything else I am thankful to be included in some amazing women’s stories. Their stories are as passionate and resilient as the Peggy Martin rose. They have had their own taste of both disaster and renaissance through out their journeys. But one thing remains constant. They continue to bloom where they are even when life is hard. And in those blooms men like me can see hope. Thank you Renee Smith for your unwavering devotion. Thank you Leslie Smith for your never ending patience. Thank you Gwen Smith for not giving up on us. Thank you cookie Raiche for creating a legacy of love.
You can support the work of local Houston Farmers and feed your friends and family right this holiday season. Our kids have made wooden gift cards that can be redeemed for any of our products from Dorper lamb, red wattle pork, pastured chicken or the fruit we grow while in season. Your support is an elegant protest this holiday season. Thanks for helping be and grow the change you want to see more of in Houston. Email us at thebarryfarm@yahoo and we will guide you through the purchase.
“I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that,
but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do.
I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength.
I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”
– Mother Teresa
When I first met Ralph (who will be 84 next month) it was almost Christmas in what would be my first winter in Vermont. I was in my early 20’s, had a bruised ego and a broken heart. For the first time in my young life the desire to grab the world by the tail was lost and I found most of my time was spent feeling sorry for myself and re hashing regrets in my head. It didn’t take very long until I was driving my truck regularly up Walker Mountain to hang out with my new friend Ralph. At the very moment when I needed a grandpa the Lord put Ralph in my path and I can say with certainty that his influence changed the course of my life for the better. We spent hours on end together and almost always there was one unifying activity and it wasn’t talking. I very much consider him a counselor and cherish his advice, but he is incredibly stingy in that department . What he is generous with the most has always been his most prized commodity, his time. Never once has he ever told me he was too busy for me. Never once did I have to make an appointment to be with him. What we did do everytime we were together was work. Ralph never stopped his work but rather put a tool in my hand and coached me through whatever it was we were working on. When it was cold and snowing outside we would be ‘down cellar’ where the wood furnace took the chill off the grey Vermont air. While down cellar, he taught me to work with wood while I asked a million questions and soaked his wisdom up like a sponge. When spring time came we would cleaning up the mud and grime that came with the receding northeast winter. Pressure washing, window washing, pruning, fixing fences were all in a days work for a 73 year old man. Come summer we would bail and fill his hay loft with 400 bales to carry his “beefers” through the winter months. While working together to fix lots of things that we could repair in a few hours work, he was fixing something much more important that required a longer investment, my heart. Almost every time I left him for the day he would stop, take his handkerchief out of his wool vest and wipe his nose like old men do, an insist on praying for me. His arthritic sun worn hands on my shoulders he would be brief almost knowing that if he kept praying I would start crying. Without exaggeration he must have told me 100 times, as we worked some thankless job for someone in the community, “whatever you do, do it unto the lord and not unto men”. The first 50 times I just nodded in a young man’s dismissive arrogant way thinking to my self “Oh Ok…..”. As the winter and spring dragged on and I saw him working for free to care for the elderly, the widowed, the misfit children and lost souls like me and it finally clicked on time 51. What Ralph was quoting and meant was that if I am relying on meeting the standards of another man’s judgement then I am setting my sights too low. That each shovel load of manure from his cold barn I should treat as the creator was watching and would be pleased with my efforts. Without ever telling me what made him tick, I watched as he and I worked at jobs that others would not do and he did them with joy and sacrifice. Never once did I see him receive payment or even much gratitude from helping neighbors or widows but he always willing to show up. How powerful is a man like Ralph, who with more action than instruction, models the good he wants to see in the world. His influence was never to teach me to be more like him, even though I very much am, but to be more Christ-like. This week he was in Texas to visit relatives near Austin. He and his wife of 60 years drove down to check out the farm. It didn’t take very long and we were working together again. It chokes me up a little thinking that each time we leave each other may be that much closer to the last time we see each other. Ralph doesn’t wait until he has money, time or energy to give of himself he just does it, and does so urgently. Miss you already old friend.
Small Farms Continue to Fail because the are Unafraid
” Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out. “. Edwin Markham
After 6 years of toil on our family farm, I have come to a conclusion that is difficult for me to admit. I’ve concluded that it is almost completely certain that if our farm survives my wife and I will never see a tangible or financial benefit. Shifting my goals to a much longer finish line, I am coming to terms with the idea that my children can only complete my life’s work if they choose to carry our farm through the next phase. While I still am young and strong with many miles still left in my tank, my failures to adopt some basic proven marketing strategies will be our farms eventual undoing. I’ve had the opportunity of watching from a catbird seat other beginning farmers take on farming endeavors, work very hard, sacrifice greatly and still close their farms down. For a group of people that have self described grit, the process of self-discovery can be a challenge. Required for us to even stay relevant and in the farming game, sacrifice drives us to cover up areas of our businesses that in the long run prove detrimental. As a group we absorb the ever rising costs not by raising our prices but by diverting the funding of home repairs, college funds, and retirement accounts to the immediate needs of our farms. No it is not that small farmers make inferior products, most times our quality is higher. We don’t fail because the demand for what we do is low. The gates of our farm won’t close because we cannot keep pace with the workload, as we are known to burn the candle at both ends. Farms fail for one major reason over and over and it is this; we are very bad at marketing to the masses they way the masses like to be marketed to.
My talented wife recently hung a sign that she painted on our bedroom wall. On it is written a simple saying that we as a family have embraced and implemented in our lives and our business. Simply written on reclaimed wood are the words “love creates”. We have clung to this small saying during arguments at The Barry Farm executive board meetings, when dealing with charitable events and our open gate policy welcoming many new people into our home. I’ve seen this principle in action as we operate more with our hearts when creative force is required. The most meaningful experiences we have had with our community have been when we acted with love over time to bring change to people who wanted to eat, live, and feel better. Most family farmers operate publicly in this manner with motivations of freedom, love, creativity, collaboration, and beauty being repeated themes. Our social media accounts are followed in droves because our vision and optimism are values that people wish their lives contained more of. Pastoral images of verdant fields, new life on the farm in the form of blossoms or baby animals and even the more utilitarian old tractor and worn out leather work gloves lift the spirit of people and pass on the joy that daily farm life gives. We thrive in these settings because we truly see our work through the lenses of joyous glasses. Joining in the rote and routine and extracting beauty from manual labor is our elegant protest against life’s wasted ambitions. However, the hard truth is beauty and opportunity are all around us for people to grab all on their own but they seldom do. Nature is ripe with beautiful views available for anyone to see if only they would go for a walk after dinner instead of watching sitcoms but few choose this. Catching up with your daughter who is excited about softball while having a catch will strengthen your bond with her, but my generation would rather play video games instead. Sitting on the porch sharing a glass of your wife’s favorite wine and truly becoming her best friend will make for a happy intimate marriage, but instead she scrolls through pinterest on her iPad and you flip through cable news channels. It is an up hill challenge for a family who farms to motive you with the good things in life because all the really good gooey things in life you already have unlimited access to. The best way to motivate you to support our farm through regular purchases is the tried and true age-old technique of FEAR.
Take just a moment and take stock of just how many things are sold to you, through advertising, to alleviate a problem you never knew you had. Here is a short, but certainly not an exhaustive, list of things commonly seen on TV that encourage you to be afraid but have a marketplace solution: Alarm Systems, pharmaceuticals, beauty products, weight loss programs, the entire insurance industry, banking, chain restaurants, colleges and higher education. The list truly is endless and not all fears are the same. Some fears threaten your personal security, don’t you need a security system for your home just in case someone breaks in and threatens your family? Some fears remind you of more personal things like, unless you are thin and beautiful people may not want to be with you. The fix here is easy and the cosmetic, beauty and fashion industry will gladly help you feel better. The one we take the most action on is the ultimate fear, the fear of death, suffering and dying. Every channel that shows Sunday afternoon football plays almost endless commercials saying “ask your doctor about a prescription for…” fill in the name of the drug. Don’t you want to be like the silver haired grandfather enjoying his grandchildren on the swing set like in the commercials? As if the pill they are advertising for a disease you didn’t even know you have yet will get you any closer to that goal.
I know that what I just said may seem verbose and a little abstract for my area of expertise so let me speak plainly about food marketing. It would be a much more effective sales tactic for me to spread food fear and offer you a solution to it, than what I currently do. It would sound something like this. Stop feeding your children chicken that has known cancer causing agents in it’s meat which has been imported from China. Doesn’t your family deserve the best? Right here in Texas (cue the images of green fields and well put together white family working on the farm scene) a trusted family farmer is raising all natural chicken outside, the way it should be, helping your family eat healthy for many generations to come. Sounds like you have heard that pitch already haven’t you? The language is almost comical but over and over it is effective. Create a fear and a solution at the same time that benefits your company. It is particularly easy in agriculture because for the most part people have no idea at all how food gets to our tables at home. You probably cannot even guess what country a grocery store item is made in let alone speak knowledgeably about the best practices, flavor or techniques that get it to your table. The truth is, that is exactly where those that seek to profit from you want you to be. So ignorant that anything they say must be trusted without question so that their companies can monetize the solutions. It is so easy to make you afraid of food because we have no relationship with any part of the process but are so completely dependent on it. What a terrifying place to find ourselves in. This is a relatively new problem and one our grandparents did not share with our current generation. They knew how to grow a garden, and did. They knew how to can, and did that too. They knew someone that raised pigs not far away and kept meat in their freezer. They knew how to bake bread and still do. When we yielded our willingness to participate in the food system to companies, we did so in the name of arrogance. We said quietly “my time is better spent doing something more important” and opted to make a monetary exchange for food instead. We exchanged as a society a tiny increase in income for complete dependence and agreed to be afraid. Think I’m exaggerating? Go to a grocery store the evening before a large weather event like a hurricane threat, heavy rain or blizzard. The shelves are stripped bare. Why? Because we told our grandparents we didn’t need to learn to bake, can, preserve, grow, pick or even cook for that matter and instead thought we could serve the greater good with engineering degrees and retail jobs.
That is a whole lot of real talk from a farmer who is coloring way outside of the lines on this topic. If you still know any small family farmers, they too will be following the fate of our grandparents’ lifestyle. Our way of life and our work rely on a small portion of a very big population preserving the values that were lost not that long ago. Besides this little post here you won’t hear us talk about being afraid. We won’t scare you into choosing us as the solution. Family farms just like ours will continue to roll the dice on motivations other than fear, and in doing so will continue to close. This week the WHO came out with a paper suggesting red meat was bad for you. Did you see many small vegetable farmers trying to capitalize on that? Nope. We would love for you to be motivated by joy, hope, love, patience, kindness and goodness but my suspicion is you are waiting to be afraid. In the meantime this farmer will take walks with his family, help deliver newborn lambs, play catch with my softball-loving daughter, and flirt with his wife on the front porch when the kids go to bed. You too can regain your confidence, stop listening to fear, and in the process change this entire thing we call our community.
It was a pleasure talking life and farming with Ben from AvenU fitness at the farmhouse. If you are interested in the “why” of farming and making some changes of your own listen along as we discuss what people of our generation are looking for. You may be surprised at what you learn in this discussion. I sure was. – Geoff
Episode 3 of the PB & Gainz Podcast is coming at you.
This episode features Geoffrey Smith of The Barry Farm.
We have been friends with the good folks from The Barry Farm for a good couple of years and needless to say, they have changed our lives.
They have completely changed the way our gym community sees farmers and farming. It’s almost a disservice to label Geoffrey and his wife Renee as “just” farmers. The label entails a much deeper meaning than we can attribute in these few words. They are farmers, friends, philosophers, social media moguls, activists, parents, and producers of the best pork, lamb, and chicken in the Houston area. If I could only choose one thing to call them, it would be Community Leaders.
That’s where today’s podcast takes us. Into the world of the community farm: what that is, why it’s important, and how to live your most authentic life. Check out episode 3 today and share with your friends and family. They’ll love you for it.