Most of the writings you find here are the big picture things that bounce around my head. I try to give you a glimpse into these things in hopes that you can see our family as we really are. Then take our mission on in your own way and push it that much further. Not everything that I count as truth do I know inside and out, quite the contrary. After being convicted of something and looking at it through sacrificial and empathetic eyes I am comfortable knowing that the truth may never be absolutely known. But none the less there is “capital T” truth. When pressed to argue what I know to be true I certainly don’t feel compelled to be the expert in all aspects of that truth. I am confident that grace continues to cover me into the areas where my understanding fails. The conversation that follows has taken me years to get to this point, but certainly won’t end here. Please consider these comments as a work in process, a thoughtful, heartfelt, compassionate work, but still being shaped. Most of this shaping is not academic, but I have found more truth in actual labor toward my convictions than I ever have through study.
In our arena of work it has become a sort of art to negotiate the overlapping complex layers of motivation that make up community. Each week we interact with people through all kinds of ways while representing our farm. Though farm tours, purchases, e mails, blogs and social media our family has lived our lives very publicly. Sure sometimes we desire to retreat to a place where people won’t be critiquing our choices, but that is not the purpose to which our family has been called to. We have been called to live authentic lives in a transparent way and we do this all on the palate of The Barry Farm. These layers meet where each of our values either over lap or divert. Imagine the space where my value for hard work meets your desire to seek craftsmanship. Or where a young mother is seeking healthy ways to feed her family and Renee’s expertise in her kitchen intersect. How about the friction between a 30 something bored young man’s goals and my seemingly unquenchable ambition. Now we are getting personal; how about the space where you and your wife seem to never be on the same page and the spot where Renee and my teamwork seem so natural? This is what the barry farm looks like in action. This is what happens on our front porch, around our kitchen island and in our pastures. It starts with authentic food and somewhere we find along the way that food is very personal and quickly breaks down emotional barriers that we would otherwise be very reluctant to cross. This is my basic argument for killing all the buzz words that seem to facilitate the food movement and sales of it’s value added products. Do I need to say I’m local to you in this context? Do you need to see my “certified naturally grown” accreditation when you are eating dinner with us?
Real authenticity does require these labels and in my opinion dumbs them down. These labels replace the opportunity to move past them with the dull apathy that thrives in that space. They prohibit a community from moving onto something that really matters and that is valuing authenticity. I’m sure by know you are thinking to yourself, that this is all well and good, so how do we wrap our head around just what authentic means? Let’s begin this conversation on authenticity by talking about what priorities authenticity has.
Here are 3 things that authenticity values
Authenticity values urgency:
The absolute go: no go point to acting, living and empathizing authentically is the moment in which action is taken. In motion we are open to change, gain knowledge, feel differently, become corrected, be punished or even rewarded as we Plinko our way through this life. The only absolute to stalling these actions is the time tested and number one barrier: desire. The irony here is we can all feel this in our lives at times and does not need to be diagnosed by someone else. In these times we are most defensive of the reasons we are not moving forward and are shut down to being changed. Conversations like “I will do something different when I am….(insert every excuse under the sun here: older, educated, richer, taller, skinnier, sleeping better, healthier, have more free time, done raising kids…). These things may seem like reasonable things to request but are killers to being the real you that your heart calls you to be and in a bigger context isolates you from an authentic living group of people we call community. Do not wait to do what is right until you feel prepared. Let me bust that bubble right now with a true assessment that you will never be prepared to live this life without flaw. Failure is still going to happen and authentic people welcome it. The authentic person knows that failure is an essential and mandatory part of the process into crafting the best version of you. We need to fail to learn some of our best lessons in life.
Authenticity values humility:
The second but no less important key to being authentic is humility. It is in my opinion very much possible to be both confident and humble at the same time. This is the tone that creates momentum on our journey to being an authentic person. Moving forward in the truth that we know confidently and giving ourselves permission to not have it all ironed out, but doing so with a gentle hand. Around The Barry Farm when we give tours or host events somewhere in the conversation about what we do I remind our visitors, that we very much farm for flavor. Never letting the end goal out of sight, which is the quality of the shared meal, is a major driver of our actions daily around the farm. Humility and authenticity to me are intertwined when excellent food arrives on our plate. If we can be honest to ourselves for just a moment and remember back to when we had less complicated food thoughts. Just for a brief second allow yourself to unknown what is trendy, or taught to you by a dietitian, or sold to you by a health food grocery store and then remember the simpler comforting food of your childhood. It probably didn’t take long to conjure up not only a dish or meal, but a whole scene in your head. I can see my mothers kitchen and even the 1980’s style dishes and place settings. In my daydream there are other people there too. We had a large family and regularly enough had visitors at my mothers table. My sweet mother showed her love with food in both quantity and invitation. It was, and still is, something that pulls at her heartstrings that not only someone in her reach would go hungry but even worse had to eat alone. But in this scene there never was what she would call “fancy pants” food. You see it was not just her approach that was basted in humility but the way she could connect people with the most simple meals from very humble ingredients. As a kid we would buy staples in bulk, shop the “dented can store”, and other discounted food stores. She perfected a rich chili with red beans and ground beef and sometimes served them over instant mashed potatoes. We had water with lunch and milk at dinner, and I remember most meals as a very young child there was a glass butter dish and a loaf of bread on the table. How is this humility? Plainly it isn’t without meeting the rest of the characters around the table. By all accounts we were not wealthy, but what we did have was something far greater. My parents began to foster children when I was in the second or third grade. By the time I had graduated high school my parents had opened our home and our table up to 60-70 children who otherwise had, to no fault of their own, ended up in the worst place a child can be. In addition to all the kids that would come and go from our home, my parents felt equally as burdened for the elderly and especially those who were widowed or widowers. Our sit down every night dinner made of stretched ingredients from Aldi’s and the supermarket would feed 2 adults 1 elderly man, my brother and I, and sometimes 5-6 foster children all of different races, genders and religions. My parents humbled themselves by giving what was “theirs” away at every decision. And in that process demonstrated to a community what authenticity is and raised a young man who would be a farmer to continue on what they had started. I’m not entirely sure why writing this makes me tear up, but it sure does. I’m proud ,guilty, and hungry all at the same time.
Authenticity values connection:
One more thought and then I swear I’ll get off this high horse. Thanks for hanging in there with me during my cathartic endeavor on authenticity. While planning this out and thinking how food keeps coming up in our farm life it occurred to me that all my food memories and really meaningful life memories share one thing in common. Each of my memories that last and shape my version of self include other people. It is true that sometimes I have have moments of reflection and that I enjoy some peace and quiet sometimes but those times carry far less weight in actually changing the man I am. In solitude I find myself taking stock of what already resides within me and with company I find myself exploring the boundaries of potential. The single greatest threat to family farms is that the community in which they reside no longer knows them as a source of meaningful connection to their lives. This has been a two way street and neither farms nor eaters are wholly to blame. It had in previous generations been taken at face value that farms were the source of food and most people knew where they could find one. Farms shifted to do either large volume commodities and gave up diversity or chased niche value added luxuries, both alienating real engagement to meaningful food relevance. At the same time in our history people more than ever affirmed that the fast paced high fat high salt life was for them. Yielding taste, health, flavor and accidentally unknitting a fabric that societies have been made of since man planted his first seed in the ground. Fast forward just a brief generation later and some of our biggest worries are loneliness and depression and managing the diseases cause by obesity. These events are not occurring in a silo and are uniquely linked to our unwillingness to do the hard work of making an actual connection to other people. My family was drawn to farming because of food’s unique ability to connect neighbors, communities and friends. This summer we were faced with some dire straights directly attributed to the floods and rain of this previous season. Our solution was hatched with friends on the front porch of our farmhouse. It was simple but the most powerful tool we have in our toolbox, and it was food. A summer dinner series of 3 dinners (that end on the 26th) brought approximately 70-80 people to our farm this summer to do a revolutionary act; eat with strangers. Does that sound intimidating to you? It may because we are very much out of practice in doing that and instead prefer the privacy of our cars to eat in. Dinner on our front lawn with new friends, old friends and volunteers puts the farm back to the business that it was intended to be about, re-knitting back the fabric of authentic communities.