Rescuing Pigs from the mud

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By now there isn't a ton that surprises me around the farm anymore.  Not because I've seen it all by any stretch of the imagination, but rather farming will force you to be flexible whether you are naturally that way or not.  After enough 'what the heck' kind of moment like waking up to floods, sheep running through your neighbors yard and the pig that just won't stay in a wise farmer lightens up the rigid schedule and goes with the flow.  Last week however was a different story.    I had been running chain saw clearing some brush for an hour or two and like a good boy was wearing my helmet and ear protection.  After a pass with the saw I grabbed a newly cut branch to drag it out of the way and over the idling engine I heard a pig squealing.  Now pigs are very vocal and make all kinds of noises.  I've heard pigs squealing over marshmallows and pig squealing during castration.  They are very different pig words.  This squeal was closer to the castration kind of squeal.  I ditched my helmet and turned off the saw and headed cross the farm at a brisk trot.   And to my surprise I found a pig stuck in the mud.  The sun was hot and it hadn't rained for a little while and our Texas Clay soil was like mostly dry concrete.  You see we don't separate little pigs from big pigs and they will all jump into a muddy spot to cool off.  Apparently the smaller pig was on the bottom of the hog pile and got pressed down in like tobacco into your grandpa's pipe.  He was squealing at the top of his lungs but couldn't budge an inch.  I hopped right into the wallow with him and fished his front legs out to the muck thinking that would be enough to get him going.   Nope, still stuck.  So I plunged my hands under his belly and lifted him up out of the sloppy mess and thought he would take right off, but he just stood there caked in muck now on top of the wallow.  By now we are both "stuck" in the mud and not very happy about it.  Nothing left to do but pick him up and haul us both out of the pit.  Now for those that don't know when you pick up pigs.....they don't like it.  They twist and kick and rub all over you so any inch of me not covered with mud from the initial plunge into the pig wallow was now painted thoroughly.   I set him on all fours, though a few bad words to say to him but only mustered an primal ahhhhh!!!   The nerve of the little pig to look at me cross without out even a stitch of gratitude.   I grabbed the water hose and remedied my situation and his spraying us both off out there in the pasture.  The only way that story gets worse would have been to commit the ultimate farm husband faux pas and to present myself on the back stoop of our home with pig "mud" all over me.   Trust me fellas you don't need that kind of hurt.     

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After a little water has gone under the bridge, I thought more about the irony of that afternoon. I've made it a priority during my farm journey to faithfully seek to wring out the meaning in every curve ball the farm throws at me.  At times it is a knock down drag out fist fight of my will versus this farms and the lessons learned are through discomfort or pain.  Sometimes though the lessons are soft and gentle and worn into me like the way a river carves through stone.  Both end up refining both the farm and the farmer and each revelation knits our identities closer and closer.  This is what makes The Barry Farm different from others that on the surface may appear to be in the same business as we are.  There is an enormous gap between food business and actual farms, and at times it seems wiser and a whole lot easier to be in the business of selling farm like products instead of the painstaking process of connecting eaters to a community and an actual place.   But that is not the lesson of rescuing pigs from the mud.  

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Isn't it ironic that the mud the pig was stuck in is typically a good thing and one that it enjoys.  Pigs and mud are inseparable and the only way they cool down effectively is cooling their skin.  When it gets warm at all, they will lay in the mud most of the day and be in hog heaven.  So how does a good thing also have potential to be sheer horror.  Just like the pig in my story I seek good things and also choose the path of least resistance to gain those good things.   Ever dare to risk thinking about all the good things in life that may be keeping us from the great things we were called to do?  Ask most men like me and we can give you a very short list of the things we say are most important to us in life.  Goes like this right? God, Family, Job....or some version there of.  But what about all the other things in life that keep us so stinkin' busy that are not bad for us and on the surface others would say are good things.  Would we dare say no to those good things in order to create the space in our lives for great things.  I am a firm believer in creating dead space in our lives when we desire or want change.   One of the most frequent mistakes I have made in both farming and in my life was succumbing to the pressure to stay busy.   As if some kind of ego stroking mechanism that I tell my self just how important I must be because my schedule is just so jammed packed.   We hear this complaint from a lot of directions right?   Sorry...I'm just too busy I can't make it.   Yes we decline invitations that way, but if we are honest we are busy with things we don't even really want to do and saying 'we are too busy' conveys to the person extending the invite that we are highly in demand.   A simultaneous defensive and offensive strategy to maintain a life full of 'good' things that drive us bonkers.  My solution,  BUILD  DEAD SPACE INTO YOUR LIFE.   I dare you to have a regular spot in your day or week that there is absolutely nothing requiring your attention.  Scrap some of the good things in your life to make that space available and only let great things fill it back up.  Ditch the sitcom that you time your week to in exchange for taking your wife for ice cream.   Turn off the video game, that unfortunately to my generation is a big deal, and instead teach your son to fish.   Why not take a walk with your wife instead of the hobby that only you do.   In the dead space only let back in the great things that make your short list of priorities and actively resist re engaging in 'good' things.   It is my prayer that I share what's in my heart to convict you a little but also to motivate you to be the best version of you.   I don't really mean to meddle, but as I was covered in mud and fightin' mad at a little pig, what keeps your favorite farmer from losing his mind is the privilege of writing to you.   I'm so grateful that this community that loves the Barry Farm has never settled our mission just on food.  Yes we are in the business of putting food on your table.  If you don't purchase meat regularly that there will be no Barry Farm, so shameless plug here, click over to the Order Meat page and grill some pork chops with your friends.  If you have been with Geoffrey , Renee Layla and Seamus for any amount of time you know by now that we feel appointed to this farm to do the real work of building community, and making a stronger version of Houston.    See you at the farm. 

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A new lamb and an old story.

white dorper lamb a few hours old. 

white dorper lamb a few hours old. 

At 2:00 am this morning a pretty fatigued ER Nurse/ Farmer/ Dad and husband went to the back of the pasture to check sheep.  We have 5-6 who are due any day now and "checking sheep" happens every few hours round the clock when we are this close to lambing.  I flicked my flashlight back and forth to catch eyes of the sheep in the darkness and it found the reflection of a ewe off to herself.  Now when a stockman sees one animal away from the others by itself it can only mean 3 things and 2 of which are bad.   The one good thing it can potentially  be....you guessed it delivering a fresh one.   By time I crossed the fence and got close I heard a soft "blatt" letting me know the baby was already born and breathing.  When I could see them through the tall grass I found a cleaned up, new baby girl already up on her feet.   A big sigh of relief from me, and I pulled up a tall tuft of grass to watch the pair for a moment.  "I'll sleep much better once I see it nurse" I thought.  So I waited.  It was vary dark with heavy cloud cover.  A thick humid quiet held us as she lowly grunted and licked her newborn baby.  This is one of those moments when things change from not being at all, to all of the sudden getting very real.   In my mind I can process that she has been carrying this baby for 5 months now as it grew, but now everything is different that I can touch her and watch her nuzzle into her mother.  

In the barn.  Ewe and baby doing well

In the barn.  Ewe and baby doing well

This time of year a lot of different versions of me come together.  There is some flicker of a romantic notion of being a member of an old club of people who tend to sheep.  Even when it is very late and I'm sitting on an overturned 5 gal bucket in the sheep barn that is lit by gas lantern ,being a shepherd still feels right.  I have learned a lot about myself from being with sheep.  The Christmas season is my very favoritest time of the year.  The practical farmer life I lead slams head first into the hopeful story of Emmanuel.  Luke 2 runs over and over in my thoughts and I am glad that when the best news was announced that it was to people like my family and I.  Hearing Linus on a Charlie Brown Christmas tell of shepherds watching their flocks at night makes the reason for the season seem close enough for me to grab onto.  If we are honest with ourselves we would admit that in the post Christmas morning sea of gift wrap that all we really want is to be together and be loved.   We crave family this time of year even more so than any other time.  That feeling in your guts is the living breathing example of Christmas.   We desire "WITH-NESS".   Withness is what God did for us on Christmas and the expected became very real indeed.  Sitting on that 5 gallon bucket I have decided that Withness has been the biggest force in my life and has the potential to be my biggest opportunity if I let it.   Withness, changes things where money, argument or teaching can't reach.   All the good will in the world is no subsitute for being present.  It's harder to be mad when we are together, harder to fight face to face, harder to let disagreement fester.   Real change can happen when are together.   God knows that, which is why he sent his own son to be with us.  The Christmas story changed our world and lives forever and I am a better shepherd for it.  Let me encourage me for a minute if I may.  This Christmas season take the small risk of being with people, and in doing so let yourself feel closer to the sheep and the shepherd.  See y'all in the barn.         

Citrus

A Citrus Christmas at The Barry Farm  December 18th a PWYC Celebration

I don't know about you but 2016 seemed like a long year.  As I was working around the farm this week I had an overwhelming moment of gratitude.  This farmer (Geoffrey) can sometimes get swept up in the work and easily bypass all the stuff that makes farming, and living for that matter worth while.   We are blessed to have 40 or so Satsuma trees here at the farm, that produce hundreds of pounds of citrus.  Sure we eat, juice and make jelly with them but we have plenty to share and be thankful for. This family farm has fed our family and hundreds of others just like ours and I struggle for ways to say Thank You loud enough to make you hear my very thankful heart. As you can see in the picture we have a lot of citrus on the trees.      

                             So in true Geoffrey form.....I .....have....a ....plan.    

We'd like invite you and your family to the farm on December 18th between the hours of 2-4 pm to pick citrus.  There is no charge for this event and we kindly ask that you PWYC (pay what you can).  If this time of year is tight, don't pay anything and let us say thanks with a little blessing to you.  If you want to bring your family see the new lambs and pick citrus and this is the best year of your financial life, leave a little something in the jar.  It will be honor system only. Is this free?  It sure is if you need it to be.  We will gladly tour you around the farm and of course the farm store will be open if you want to take meat home for the holiday but you have no obligation to do so.  Let us say thanks to you with what we have been blessed with.  

We do ask

- please let us know if you plan to come, by filling out the "contact" form on this website and denote the citrus event.  

-please no dogs- we love em' but not for this event.

-we'd love you to bring your children but we ask that you watch them closely and keep them safe while at the farm.

-lastly we ask you to be mindful that this is our home, not just our farm.  Be patient, kind and respectful

 

 

 

We certainly love ya Barry Farm family.  

Thanks for supporting our family and farm throughout life's seasons.  Now go to the home page and click contact.   

 

 

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The Ancient: How good farmers handle uncertainty

We must act daily as critics of history so as to prevent, so far as we can, the evils of yesterday from infecting today. - Wendell Berry

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I have found a lot of peace in matching my reading of Wendell Berry, with my Christian faith and my daily experiences as a farmer.  One such confluence is when Berry says 'I don't believe in tomorrow because it doesn't exits' and the gospel of Matthew says "do not worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will worry about itself".   Maybe you're thick headed like me and things can go in one ear and out the other.  Possibly it is just our busyness that makes us act this way .  But when I hear the same thing from more than one angle I typically stop and think a little more about it.  To say that farming and living the way my family does has an uncertain path is putting it mildly.   Being linked to animals, nature, food trends and timelines very rarely yield stress free - free wheeling -  zippy de do da days.   It has however slowly ground this stubborn 30 something down to learn a few thing about farming and living well.  Will you indulge me for a few minutes?  I'll gladly share my heart with you.  

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As Mr. Berry points out, the path here to not worrying about our future here is successfully wrestling with our past.  Putting to rest our mistakes and making peace with our errors keeps the past from repeating itself as this days reality.   I have to fess up a little here.  This farmer very easily gets trapped in a cycle that only exists in my mind that can be non productive.   I'll think myself in circles trying to keep unhappy or unkind things from coming out of my pie hole and dumping my crap on others.   How's that working for ya?  Well....I say fewer things that I regret, but keeping my thoughts all bottled up doesn't feel like a resolution at all to me.   At some point on the hamster wheel of crazy there becomes only one solution that ever gets me off of it.   I remember and trust the ancient.  

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What I mean is most of our worries about things that may or may not happen don't pan out.   What we predict as worst case scenario seldom comes true, but we ( or should I say I) still persist in dwelling on it.  It is past experiences of disappointment, missing out or plain old regret reminding us in our present worry that we should have concerns.  That kind of thinking is a big error if we are looking for peace.   The error is we let the way we last looked at issues influence our now and in the process completely underestimate the truth that ancient things promise us.  The ancient promises us that the sun will rise in the new morning whether I worry it will or won't.  It has since our planet was created right?   The ancient promises us that love wins always in the end if we wait for it.  The ancient whispers I am with you as sure as the grass grows and the birds fly.   The ancient believes in seasons, rhythm, renaissance, and has never asked for our input or even participation.   A good farmer knows all this almost intuitively.  As I become more in sync with our farm I can lead our family through uncertainty knowing that she will march on unwavering as a reliable friend.   The farm allows us to play a part in it as it was a living breathing place before we were ever there.  It does not require or need us, but rather accepts us and makes us better people for being here.   This is the story of my most recent faith walk.  The farm has always been a living metaphor for how the Lord has worked in my restless soul.   Just as the farm has always been alive and well without me, so has the Lord of all things been an ever present friend.  He also believes in seasons, rhythm and renaissance and is teaching me to trust him in the same way.    He simply asks me to be the kind of farmer that makes a path for provision and not obsess about predicting outcomes for then next day based on my past failures.   Trust the ancient his memory is long and actions consistent, and in this long story I am a small and ever grateful part.  

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A unique wealth.

I so love our farm dinners. There is a unique interpersonal intersection that can transcend the authenticity of the food and really change your expectations if you allow it too.  Sure, it can require a step of vulnerability to allow this change to happen but, I am here to attest that I am a better farmer, husband and daddy because of it.   Taking the risk of allowing people to see the 'walls down' version of ourselves is the only way to learn new things about how others truly see us.  In the end, my goal at the farm has always been for people to know us farmers for far more than our products.  We want average people to see average farmers just as we are,  quite possibly for the first time. I can make a pork chop and a metal barn sound really lofty can't I?   More than once I have received the feedback that those goals are simply too much to ask of people.  On purpose we have resisted the model of cheap and convenient.  We have competitors (if you can call them that) that buy cheaply raised animals from all over the state, bring them to Houston, and sell them as locally raised.  This is the only way to get you a cheap never ending supply of favorite cuts conveniently packaged for your home.  If that's the best local farming in Houston can offer, you can count the Smith Family out.  I'm not interested one bit in cheap and convenient products because I am not interested in cheap and convenient relationships.  To be truly seen as a family and a farm it takes risk to stand for a set of values that are non negotiable and can be unpopular.  However, in that process we may just discover that local farms have very little to do with products and have everything to do with people caring about each other.  We love you and Houston way too much to have a relationship built on anything less than loving excellence.   

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When the tour had ended at the last farm dinner I had a quick conversation with one of our guests.  It was obvious to her after meeting our family, and then seeing the amount of labor and love it takes to pull this off, that we were stretched pretty thin.  We talked of the challenges of this kind of farm and the opportunities that it provided for our kids.  Then something she said cut right through my thinking.  She said "Geoffrey, you have a unique kind of wealth here that none of us could ever attain".   To hear the words wealth and me in the same sentence, felt dirty for some "deep seated protestant preacher's son" kinda reason.  We struggle to make ends meet and I work two full time jobs, how in the world could I be wealthy no matter the measurement?   Hold that thought....

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As I drove into work today I got a call on my cell phone.  I commute almost an hour to work so I often have a minute to return or take calls that need catching up on.  A long time friend called to tell me that I was on his heart this weekend and wanted to remind me that my family is unique.  He said to me that it's possible that he has lovingly spoiled his children and that he was proud of the way we have raised our kids.  He recalled his own up bringing that sometimes had left him wanting for the basics as a child.  A place to stay and a full belly weren't always guaranteed.  Because of his love for his kids he works a lot to provide for not only all their needs but their wants as well.  Jokingly he said "my kids biggest dilemma in life is weather to play x box or the PlayStation."    My friend concluded our conversation by thanking me for being an example to him and his family by the way we live our life.  Hold that thought too....

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Being referred to as having wealth seems to fly in the face of what feels to us as continued struggle.  The Barry Farm gobbles up every nickle we make and we cannot simply afford lots of the luxuries that most homes have.  Seamus would love an Xbox or a PlayStation, but he has neither.  We don't eat out much, I haven't bought a new pair of jeans in 4-5 years and still wear thing that were bought in Vermont 13 years ago.  When Layla want's something that is not a necessity she works around the farm and I pay her 10.00/hr.   Pocket money for the fair, new boots, or the third repair to her trombone all come from her labor.  Layla knows just how hard it is to get a dollar and is usually very thrifty because of it.  Let me be really honest and plain about my point here.  The struggle isn't a journey.  It has no preordained conclusion, but rather the struggle is what we were called as your friends to do.  Our struggle has made a tight knit family that loves each other and enjoys simple things, but would still give the shirt off my back to someone that needs it.  The farm struggles FOR YOU, so that our relationship and your relationship with it will be inconvenient but, as real as anything in this world can be.  Act like a farmer and stop avoiding the struggle.  Your family will prove how strong they are and their character shine if you begin to work in the daily friction like we do.  Avoid the cheap crap that fills our bellies and our lives and instead embrace the saying on my wife's home decor and let it be well with your soul.      

"What's the worst thing that happened this week?" I asked my son

Frodo : I can't do this, Sam.

Sam : I know.
It's all wrong
By rights we shouldn't even be here.
But we are.
It's like in the great stories Mr. Frodo.
The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were,
and sometimes you didn't want to know the end.
Because how could the end be happy.
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened.
But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you.
That meant something.
Even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.
I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t.
Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

The Two Towers - J.R.R. Tolkien

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So I have to fess up a little bit.  I posted on Instagram and Facebook a video of the above day old chicks a few day prior.  Well the truth is every chick you see and about 60 more are all dead.  With this weeks really bad news cycle I didn't have the heart to follow up on our post. The farm can be a cruel reality that typically could give 2 flying figs about my sense of fairness for the world.  80 chicks were killed and packed into a nest by a rat in the span of about 3 hours time.  Here is my front porch rocking chair account of how this farm disaster unfolded.  My usual routine when I come home at 2:30 am from my shift in the Emergency Room is to make rounds at the farm to ensure that things are mostly in order for the rest of the night.  I very much rely on all of my senses especially when it is dark.  The smell of smoke and the missing livestock guardian dogs were enough to get a tired farmer/ er nurse to investigate further.   Mag light and a quick boot change and I was off to the most vulnerable place on the farm, the brooder house.   Inside were 175 newborn chicks split into two groups.   One of the groups was completely missing, as if someone was pranking me.  The other group not 5 feet away was completely intact and added to the puzzled, fatigued middle of the night haze now running through my head.  I nosed around the high grass that is near the brooder house shining my flashlight back and forth looking for signs of chickens or the alien spacecraft that could have possible abducted them.  What could possibly go wrong stumbling around in the dark on a warm July Texas night right?   I abandoned my search rescuing only 4 that I found in a nearby PVC pipe, but the mystery of just what happened to those chicks ate at me.  Now sweaty and pissed off I made it to the house just shy of four A.M.  "What could have possibly happened to those chicks?" I asked myself over and over.   After much postulation I was certain they had made a jailbreak from the brooder house and our third shift employees had their fill of fresh baby chicken.   Those damn dogs!  There are a few recurring themes in my life and jumping to conclusions seem to go hand in hand with making rash decisions.  Both trademark Farmer Geoff moves.   Fast forward 2 hot July days later and I was in a hurried rush to get chores done between church and an ER shift.  Despite some pretty wicked hay fever the stench of something dead made my eyes water.   Lo and behold a disgusting pile of mangled dead chickens crammed into a rats nest underneath the remnants of last seasons hay bales.  I'm sure my wife is making a gagging sound and yucky face even as she reads this, and rightfully so.  Nothing like a rotting carcass on a hot day to make you feel all nostalgic about farming right? 

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At church this morning the pastor stood in front of us and hesitated for a minute and uttered the phrase "This has been a hard week hasn't it?"   The whole place breathed a long sigh with a collective slump shouldered "yeah it has " kinda feeling sweeping the auditorium.   He struggled to utter words that were helpful but honest about this week's events.  Even though we need to talk about this week's police shootings and return fire in Dallas, I'm sure you are growing fatigued, as am I,  of being surrounded with bad news.  So much hate and violence and all the while hashing it out with flashy graphics, breaking news sets to a thematic sound track cranks my anxiety level to 11.  There are dozens of families this week who are living a kinda hurt that I can't possibly sympathize with and even as I write this I feel guilty for just wanting to stop talking about it.   Hidden in the shadow this kind of behavior and hatred breed fear to our nation and we are way better than that.  Dragging it kicking and screaming into to light of day is the only hope to lick this nonsense.   I'm proud of our pastor for not sweeping it under the rug but rather did his best to make sense of chaos.  It would have been so much easier just to do what I shamefully wanted him to do and ignore it and just put life back the way it was two weeks ago.  As the band began to play I leaned over to Seamus and asked him "What was bad that happened this week?"   I had assumed that this never ending coverage and analysis had seeped down into his world.   He looked at me puzzled so I rephrased " What bad thing happened this week that Pastor is talking about?"   Knowing Seamus I should have seen it coming, but he said plainly "The chicks died".  

Slack jawed I gave him a crazy dad look that must have lasted too long because he began to look around the room without moving his head.  It was an awkward response to his honest reply but for the life of me couldn't believe that he didn't know what was going on.   Totally distracted from the service I drifted off into one of those TV dream sequences replaying his week in my head.  Like a ton of bricks it hit me that he was way more in tuned than I had given credit for.  This kid spent the worst week in recent months to be an American in the pool, at friends houses, watching Andy Griffith, playing with his dogs, flying rubber band rockets and packing for summer camp.  Unlike the rest of us, Seamus was never told to be sad, angry or afraid this week and even though he is only 10 his perspective was needed in my big daddy heart.  His reply brought me quickly back to earth and off of the planet that only plays the news reel.             

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Before I wax poetic any further, thanks for hanging in with me thus far.   Not the sexiest of subjects I know but this is where a community is formed and bonds are made and I don't take it for granted that we are here together.  What do dead chicks, Samwise Gamgee ,  a 10 year old boy and shooting each other have to do with anything that a farmer would have thoughts about?     Well one of the ways that farms remain community assets is that we have a way of recording time and telling stories in a much more deliberate way.   Nothing happens on a farm and to farm families that are not intricately connected to a long told story.  There exist no quick changes and her memory is longer than even I can remember.   She is constantly telling a narrative about seasons and suns, life and death, wealth and poverty all at the same time.  The death of 80 chicks is horrible but only to me and the chicks.  To the rats, insect and soil their death is nourishing and good.  Her story is intricate even if it is utilitarian.  We have lost deeply this week and we should grieve as hard as we can while insisting that there is good in this world worth fighting for.  But instead of letting cable TV tell me how to feel, maybe we can think about different things on purpose.  Let's set our minds on things that are pure, lovely, noble, true, honorable and admirable like Seamus did. Now for all the conviction I can muster listen to me on this.  All those things have to be told in your story at the same time.  Weave a bigger narrative that envelops your heart and mind with all the blessings that this life can give us, including the opportunity to be vulnerable in the face of tragedy.  Don't let the story of you be so short sighted that negativity kills your joy.  I dare you to act differently after reading this.

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At the 2016 Houston Barbecue Festival with the Feges bbq family

With so much coverage of the 2016 Houston Barbecue Festival I thought it wise to let the smoke clear before writing my thoughts.   Of course we said our much owed "thank yous" already and we can't express enough our gratitude to Patrick Feges  ( Feges BBQ and Southern Goods) for inviting us along.   He and his fiance' Erin have a heart for Houston's farm families and even though they don't have to purchase from local family farms, they make every attempt to support our work when they can.  We have enjoyed a growing relationship with Patrick and he always finds a way to elevate the products from the farm with his BBQ.   Thank you so much Patrick, it means a lot to the Smith Family. 

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It is kind of rare for a food event in Houston to be so hospitable to families.   The organizers, pitmasters, and their crews were not only cool with Seamus and Layla being there but actually took time to shake their hands and speak with my kids.   As a daddy, I can't tell you how much it means to me that people are respectful to the most important members of our team.   Someone recently described The Barry Farm as a purveyor.  While we technically are a seller of products and the term is not completely inaccurate it certainly doesn't capture our work or intent.  Grower, Rancher or Farmer is much more accurate, in that we don't source from other places but rather everything we sell comes from our farm in Needville. The Smith Family very much desires for the Houston Food Community to connect directly to the place we farm whether it is through us as people or through tasty BBQ.    When you look my daughter in the eye and shake her hand you are affirming her hard work has value and that we are on the right track as a farm family.  We typically accept few invitations that do not welcome our kids to go along with us.  Their work is so essential to making our farm go, that I feel I am acting disrespectfully to them if they aren't invited to celebrate with us.  And if the truth be told, our farm will most likely only reach it's full potential through them and their efforts as they grow into running and owning this farm.  To love my kids is to be investing with us in the future of Houston flavor.  

Farmer Geoffrey and Patrick of Feges BBQ with a whole Barry Farm Red Wattle

Farmer Geoffrey and Patrick of Feges BBQ with a whole Barry Farm Red Wattle

Patrick and Wayne Mueller on Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor, Tx

Patrick and Wayne Mueller on Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor, Tx

A long time friend of the farm Chef Ben McPherson wearing Geoffrey's hat. 

A long time friend of the farm Chef Ben McPherson wearing Geoffrey's hat. 

It doesn't make the headlines very often, but one of the aspects that I particularly like about this event is that these businesses run just like ours.  There are lots of family run BBQ teams and they rely on their closest family and friends to make this event possible.  Husband and wife teams, fiance's, best friends and parents are involved and honestly add to the beauty and uniqueness of this part of our food community .  It wasn't just all the excellent BBQ that was celebrated last weekend, but something much more worthy.   Long lasting friendships and relationship were the star of the festival.  That's what makes The Houston Barbeque Festival so special.   Keep up the great work guys and until next year here are some pictures to tide you over.   Enjoy

Geoffrey and the man himself J.R. Cohen.  Such a gracious and helpful host

Geoffrey and the man himself J.R. Cohen.  Such a gracious and helpful host

Whole hog is both ambitious in Houston and very photogenic.  Thanks for taking it on Patrick

Whole hog is both ambitious in Houston and very photogenic.  Thanks for taking it on Patrick

Geoffrey and Renee Smith of The Barry Farm.  The dream team!

Geoffrey and Renee Smith of The Barry Farm.  The dream team!

Ready for service

Ready for service

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He sure didn't have to but Patrick told 2000 guest today about The Barry Farm and our hogs.  Taking family farms along for the ride.

He sure didn't have to but Patrick told 2000 guest today about The Barry Farm and our hogs.  Taking family farms along for the ride.

Farming for Flavor in Houston Texas

Recapping "Ready Fire!", a live fire event, at The Barry Farm 

This past Saturday at the farm a small but powerful shift occurred.  A young man's fascination and a community's potential collided over both pasture and fire.  The event entitled "Ready Fire!" was intended to bring people together around food, remove the typical restaurant cues that dictate hospitality and to hi light the people that make the process possible.  I'm fairly certain that all that was accomplished and much more for those in attendance. Quite possibly when reading this you're own curiosity may be peaked to what is happening in the small town of Needville, Tx encouraging you to join us next month.  

Farmhouse table built by the farmer and made ready by the farmers wife.  Set for guests to arrive shortly.  

Farmhouse table built by the farmer and made ready by the farmers wife.  Set for guests to arrive shortly.  

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First course served after the farm tour. 

Houston's best pork (Heritage breed Red Wattle) fire and smoke.

Houston's best pork (Heritage breed Red Wattle) fire and smoke.

The inspiration for this event was an episode of "Mind of a Chef" featuring Edward Lee.  We watched an episode together as a family in which Chef Lee went to Patagonia to cook with Francis Mallmann over his storied 7 fires.  Something sparked in Seamus' (our 9 year old son's) mind that delighted his fascination and prompted the journey that ended with "Ready Fire!" on Saturday night.  Our family and farm chose this event not to celebrate meat and fire, but to pay honor to the people throughout the process that make food such a special ingredient in our lives.  

Fire as an ingredient a flavor and a place.

Fire as an ingredient a flavor and a place.

 "Being here is kind of like a dream. And like most dreams some of it makes sense some of it doesn't.  At some point I'll wake up from this dream and see what I'll remember." - Chef Edward Lee

That quote struck a cord with me as I listened to him speak because it reminded me of Barry Farm dinners.  It is a lot to ask of guests to be able to soak in the entire process from pasture and farmer and ending with plate and chef.  So much is pulling at our thoughts and senses that to take it all in, isn't really a possibility.  To kick our dinners off we take a tour of our 18 acre farm.  New friends see the farm in all her glory and in a major step of vulnerability we also reveal her flaws.  Our family tells the story that intertwines our labor and and care we take with our animals and our plants.  Product and process make much more sense while standing in the blackberry orchard or holding baby lambs in the barn.  As the veil lifts on what it takes for food to make it to a chef's hands, it becomes time to partake in his craft. The sun begins to hang gravid behind the tin buildings that line our farmhouse front while we attempt to reconcile all that we have just seen from the farmers. As dreamers still, we move on from the farm process to a culinary one that has stripped away the last vestiges of the alchemy that is cooking.  For "Ready Fire!" there is no back of the house.  Chef is one of us orchestrating heat, salt, meat, and flavor as the crowd gathers.  As the farm has become transparent and vulnerable the chef too has displayed all that is normally hidden.   His art is live and on display.  On purpose we have omitted many of the things from the restaurant process that encourage and que you to critique the food, ambiance and hospitality.  Instead in this space and in this way we can remember when company and food were inspiring and facilitated the best in us.  We linger.  Without being instructed to do so, or moving service to another place, guests move hay bales to sit by the fire.  They eat with and strike up conversations with strangers and to my continued surprise, love every second of it.   You see farms own a special place that cannot be transported and replicated.  Farms do need people but, I would pledge that people need farms to fill a spot where something was missing but was difficult to diagnose.  That spot is community.   Lets change that, shall we?  Take a gamble on us next dinner and I promise you too will be waking from your dream grasping at good things to try and store away in your heart.  You will be remembering the people that shared that journey with you in a new way.  They are hidden from your view for lots of reasons, but when we finally see food for what it is, it will not be possible to ignore the people who farm, cook, serve, host and eat it.  Food does that and we won't be the same.               

Rotating and Roasting

Rotating and Roasting

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Barley Fed Red Wattle and White Dorper Lamb 

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Chef Chris doing the "chef pose".  Ever notice most pictures of chefs are of them standing this way?  

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Pasture raised barry farm chicken, charred slaw, Alabama white sauce.

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Chef Ben Mcpherson was kind enough to join us.  I think he looks like a natural in a Barry Farm apron. 

Lamb asador charred vegetables and sauces.

Lamb asador charred vegetables and sauces.

Easter was a ginormous success

It has become now a tradition at The Barry Farm to host the fine young people from Parks Youth Ranch on Easter Sunday.  This is a deeply personal event for those of us involved in pulling it off, as we have developed a small sense of ownership over the mission of the ranch. I feel as if those kids are my responsibility and should be loved as my own.    For those that don't know me and my story as well a little background here is helpful.  My parents are pastors and have faithfully served the church my entire life.   My mother would never let a holiday slide without making sure that those in the church that found themselves alone or unable to cook for their families were loved and cared for.  So never fail my childhood holiday celebrations were spent with the elderly, newly divorced, and single dads who had weekend custody of his kids, eating together in the fellowship hall of the church.  Awwww....how sweet....uh.... check that nope... i hated it.  It was work for us kids. We became food runners, drink refillers and napkin fetchers.  My sweet hearted mother would make a typical Yankee Easter dinner complete with a  honey baked ham, mashed potatoes, and green beans in giant electric roasters.  High culinary technique this wasn't, but I now know that she was hitting her intended mark.  My parents would pay for this meal out of their own pockets and never say a word of complaint.  Only their spoiled oldest son dare complain about a scene like this one.    

The farmhouse lawn and an Easter Celebration

The farmhouse lawn and an Easter Celebration

Fast forward 20 some odd years later and this unsettled feeling says in my gut " why is your Easter table empty?"   Either heritage or tradition or guilt takes over reminding me there are 20 kids that live 5 minutes from the farm who would love to have green beans and ham at a 'normal' house.  The children that make Parks Youth Ranch their home, do so on a temporary and emergency basis.  Imagine being 12 and homeless?  Can you put yourself in the shoes of a brother and sister who now have no parents because their mother just went to jail?  As difficult as that is for me to wrap my head around, I find it equally as puzzling that at times we can pretend not to care about them at all.   All of their problems are not fixable by coloring eggs and decorating cookies but one of their problems can be fixed: loneliness.   For one afternoon they weren't alone and got to be with family and that just may mean the world to them.   

Barry Farm cookies decorated by a young lady at Parks Youth Ranch  

Barry Farm cookies decorated by a young lady at Parks Youth Ranch  

Without the persistent push of all of our volunteers this event would never have become the amazing experience that it is each year.  Don't quit!  Don't stop!  Don't wait for Easter!  365 days a year a homeless teen lives at parks youth ranch and would love a break from bearing the weight of the world on their young mind.   Keep up the persistent push against the thing we can influence in their lives.  Lets fight back against their loneliness.  Lets beat off the isolation that draws them inward.  Lets keep shaking the thoughts of inadequacy off their back.   Even if it is only for today.  Today can be the blessing. 

Freestyle cookie decorating.   

Freestyle cookie decorating.   

Finally as a community that supports our work at the farm I want to extend a personal thank you.  We really believe you should expect this kind of thing from farms.  Hold us to this.  If your farm and farm system is not a blessing to its community it is not a real farm.  It your farm is just a menu item, a wholesaler, a flipper of produce or a purveyor they are not a farm. They may be in the food business but please don't let them call themselves farms.  Farms have a connection to a place yes but what is a place void of its people?  If we cannot continue to see the people that make up a farm community as essential to this process as the product we raise and grow we will be relegated to ho hum background that is the faux farm scene. Your farmers will continue to stay focused on the landscape of people that make a farm community vibrant and that includes those that need a helping hand.     

 

Happy Easter  

Our youngest volunteer and our youngest member of the security team.  

Our youngest volunteer and our youngest member of the security team.  

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Fire:

This April 9th is the convergence of our farm's process, our family's desire to be known and the friendships we are building. This event already feels like fire to me as it is crackling, new, romantic and powerful all at the same time.   Only at the Barry Farm will something like this happen in Houston.  Transparent farming, transparent living and now transparent cooking intersect on the beautiful place that is our farm.  We would be honored if you would take this journey with us.  It won't be quick as we don't want to rush this process, but there will be food and drink and fire and community being built.   I'm learning that this is what farms are made for.   

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Homemade Sausage

Last night we brought barry farm lamb and pork to a friend's house and he helped me make merguez (a lamb sausage) and some spicy italian pork sausage! Yum-o! They turned out great and i'm looking forward to eating some yummy meals with them. I mean look at that meat and those fresh herbs and veggies... Too bad you can't smell the spices!

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Pork Shares from a transparent farm //taking back the local from cheaters

A topic that is somewhat dear to my heart has always been transparency when it comes to buying from and supporting local farms.  Renee and I have steered clear from this conversation mostly because we don't like to be dragged into negative talk or baited into talking badly about other operations.  The truth be told i am not ashamed to defend what I feel is right and I do believe that there are those who are willing to exploit the good intentioned family with a marketing scheme. 

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Virginia may be for lovers but The Barry Farm is for Kids....

Remember when children were not just consumers? Remember when they were not a demographic to be marketed to? How about a harder one. Remember when we had goals for them other than to please their institution of 'higher learning'? Now how bout a crusher. Remember when kids were a tangible benefit to their family and had use other than occupying our time? 

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Pigs with a purpose (our community connects through the work of the pig)

Pigs with purpose. This is how we solve animal welfare issues for farm animals. Learn to value their purpose not just their products. Did you get that? Pigs till, improve marginal land like overgrown tree lines , add fertility, undo compaction, can eat by products, renovate pastures. The list goes on and on.

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Creativity and Farmers: finding happiness the easy way

It is too easy to pass this off as a comedian or celebrity whose words are to be marginalized.    If your like me when I hear actors using their celebrity to hop ona cause or to speak about politics my attention span is as short as a the life expectancy of an earthworm in the chicken run.  Just because we were entertained by you does not mean that we want your opinion an how to operate morally.  

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Everyday we vote every day we make a change

Don't fall into the lie that your habits and routine don't matter. It is perilous to develop habits out of ignorance and convenience. Think about your actions because they matter. They matter to your neighbors, your community, your children and your health.

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The joy in between

To tell the truth I didn't really want to tell this story this week. I didn't want to be angry, frustrated or appear helpless but we remain committed to being transparent. Every real relationship is built on honesty and transparency and the relationship your farmers have with you is no different. 

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The inglorious path of the farm family

For weeks as this path was formed I didn't even notice it.  The rye grass went from seed to sprouting to up and green.  The pigs had been moved from this spot not too long before and had done a great job at disturbing the soil and tilling up the end of the summer grasses.  Every day we go out to visit the hog in the distance, bringing feed and water to him as he awaits his last trailer ride.  

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What makes a farm go

The truth behind the Barry farm is that it takes both of us doing uniquely different things at the same time to make our dream a reality. More days than we would like I work at the emergency room while renee runs the day to day workings of the farm. Never more than a text away we stay in contact if changes or issues arise. 

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