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Total Health: Christine Bailey of Kindred Farm On How We Can Optimize Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing

Laugh hard and often. Make it a point to be around people who make you laugh. Watch shows or listen to books that make you laugh. Laugh until you cry. It’s such a good release.

Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Bailey.

Christine Bailey is a farmer, writer, and dreamer. A former music industry gal turned social entrepreneur turned sustainable produce and flower farmer, Christine is growing deep roots with her chef husband and daughters on their seventeen-acre Kindred Farm in the hills of Santa Fe, Tennessee. Christine grew up an Italian American Jersey girl before leaving for college, attending Belmont University in Nashville, and then working in the music industry for several years. After meeting her husband, Steven, and moving to Dallas, the pair became interested in the local food movement and started Urban Acres, an organic produce co-op that grew to over 2,400 families, along with a market, and urban farm. In 2015, she and her family began their own farming journey when they moved to Tennessee to start the Kindred Farm. They have since been welcoming people to the land and around the table at their unique farm-to-table events called Kindred Dinners. Christine shares her adventures and inspiration on her website, ChristineMarieBailey.com.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in the 80s in a lovely, primarily Italian American neighborhood in suburban New Jersey. I believed I had a black thumb, while I watched my mom garden in our yard and create a whimsical and beautiful space with flowers and trees. I was always wooed by beauty and found solace in nature and had a very vivid imagination. I never imagined I’d become a farmer. Yet my Italian immigrant grandfather turned his entire backyard into a tomato garden, so growing food is definitely in my blood. I was very close with my family and spending time around dinner tables with chairs crammed in to include as many people as possible was a huge part of my childhood.

What or who inspired you to pursue your [farming] career? We’d love to hear the story.

In 2009 while living in urban Dallas, my husband, Steven and I saw the documentary Food, Inc.. The fire was lit inside us to start supporting local farms, the organic food movement, and becoming more connected to where our food comes from. We started traveling the backroads of Texas to local farms and bringing back coolers of goodies, like fresh cheese, sweet potatoes with dirt still on them, freshly baked bread, and blueberries. Out of this newfound passion, we ended building relationships with Texas farmers and starting an organic produce co-op in Dallas that grew from a few families to 2,300. We also built a ¼ acre farmstead in the city, and an organic market and cafe with local Texas products. We helped start community gardens in food deserts. And we hosted our very first farm dinners there. All this time, we were learning how to grow things for ourselves in our own backyard. I was becoming invested in the soil, eating the food I grew with my own two hands, and sharing it with friends around our table. We sold our business in 2015 and decided to move to middle Tennessee to start Kindred Farm, knowing we would follow in the footsteps of our mentor farmers and farm organically and sustainably.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My parents for sure — they both encouraged me in everything I ever wanted to do. My mom is the first one to crouch down and show me how to pause and notice beauty — starting with the purple crocuses outside my kindergarten classroom window. We’ve traveled to many different countries together and always took time to pull over on the side of the road when we saw a beautiful landscape. My dad has always made me laugh, showed me the value of hard work and common sense, and has held his strong hands out for me so many times in my life.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Our first farming season, spring 2017, was full of so many blunders! There’s the day I accidentally dumped an entire bag of cover crop seeds in one spot — enough seeds that were meant to cover an entire field. There’s the day that our 6 new piglets escaped and it took my husband and I, another couple who was staying with us, plus the entire family of our neighbors next door to catch them. And then there’s the night we moved all our young chickens into the Henstream, the chicken trailer where they roost and lay their eggs. That evening, my husband was gone, and I was in charge of checking to make sure all the chickens went inside the automatic door that closes at sunset for the night. I thought it was no big deal, until I found one lone chicken strutting around outside at dark. I chased it around until I finally caught it, opened the door, and squealed as I shoved the chicken inside. As I was leaving, I noticed something looked strange at the chicken door. Oh no..it couldn’t be… Yes, there was a chicken head/neck hanging completely limp out the chicken door while the rest of its body was inside. I frantically called Steven and told him that one of our chickens got decapitated and it was all my fault. An hour later, he went to take care of the dead chicken and came back inside laughing. “Um, it wasn’t dead! It was just frozen in shock. I opened the door and nudged it a little and it popped its head up and walked away.

The lessons I’ve learned from these? We’re ALWAYS learning! And definitely laugh at yourself!

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I’m going to go with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. At the end of 2019, I started reading aloud all 7 of the Narnia books with my daughters, and in the middle of reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in early 2020 was when Covid hit, and we were all suddenly quarantined, unable to hug our closest friends or even breathe their air. While feeling relatively safe at home, a new fear rose within me for our world, our business, our relationships, our health. The anxiety was real. Many of us have heard the quote by Aslan from that book, “Courage, dear heart,” but when I read the book for the first time, I read that entire quote in context, and it floored me. Lucy and the other passengers of the giant ship, The Dawn Treader, are on an exciting mission from Aslan, the mighty lion. They are sailing into the unknown and suddenly reach Dark Island. They soon realize they can’t find their way out and find themselves sailing endlessly in darkness towards a place that is worse than the worst of nightmares. They whisper a prayer for Aslan to save them, and he appears instead as an albatross in the sky and whispers, “Courage, dear heart.” Their journey changes course immediately, and they are shot from the darkness into the light. “…and all at once everybody realized that there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been.”

I’ll never think of fear and courage the same way again. Fear wants to keep us up at night with all the what-ifs, doubts, and unknowns. Fear makes us shrink back rather than rise up. Courage says, “I will live/move/walk forward. I will trust that I’ll have exactly the help and peace I need, exactly when I need it.”

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

In farming, it’s “Progress Over Perfection.” If I’ve learned anything since becoming a farmer, it’s that striving for perfection is absolutely paralyzing, and perfection isn’t even possible. If we get hung up on perfection in farming, we’ll fail almost every time because we’re dealing with so many elements beyond our control — seeds get killed by a late frost, animals escape, irrigation lines bust and leak. But progress works — we keep moving forward, learning from our mistakes, and getting better at what we do, little by little. Progress says the abundant life comes in the journey itself, not the end result.

In parenting, it’s “Put in the time now, or put in the time later.” I believe I first heard this in relation to creating healthy attachments with our children when they were babies. Time is required for healthy, intimate relationships with our children. By putting in the time when they are little to meet their needs, we reap the benefits as they grow older. If we don’t put in the time when they are little, we will put in the time later with a lot bigger problems.

And just in every aspect of life, it’s “Always stay grateful.” One of my spiritual mentors, Melissa, says this all the time, and it has never failed to help me on a really hard day or in the middle of a big life struggle. There is always, always something to be grateful for, and turning our hearts towards that helps us see that there’s hope in the midst of the hardest things.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

My first book, The Kindred Life: Stories and Recipes to Cultivate a Life of Organic Connection, releases on May 17th, 2022! This book is part memoir — it’s the story of how I’m learning to live a life of deeper connection — to the land beneath my feet, to community, and to life around the table. And it’s part inspiration guide for anyone to live a life of connection, right where they are. I truly believe this is a time when we need to recapture what’s been lost in the chaos of busyness, distraction, and isolation. We find connection again in the rhythms and practices that have united us since the beginning of time, and still do: we get our hands dirty, we invest in authentic community, and we open up our tables. This book is for anyone who is hungering to be nourished on a soul level, to reclaim the gifts they have to offer the world, and to connect to a deep sense of community. I’m so proud and excited about how it turned out — lots of colorful photos, 10 rustic, doable recipes meant for sharing in an authentic yet imperfect way, and journaling prompts that are perfect for personal reflection or book clubs!

Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives: Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Being in nature. Nature heals, and I believe God created it that way. Hikes and walks and just strolls in nature, stopping to examine tiny flowers or rocks, or streams up close is so good for our mental health. Even when I lived in Dallas, right in the middle of the city, I found every possible green space to visit every week, and I would rotate through them with my small children. There were Audubon centers, hiking trails, and even college campuses were such a beautiful spot to soak up some natural beauty. It always clears my head and helps me focus on what matters.
  2. Have a few people who you can share your honest, unfiltered thoughts with — who won’t try to fix you, but who will listen. And just be there. If you’re married, ideally this is your spouse first and foremost, but also we need close friends who can do this for us, and vice versa.
  3. Having a counselor you trust when you need it. I think all humans can benefit from good counseling!

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

As a Christian, daily prayer is the biggest practice that helps me remember who I am as loved by God, keep things in perspective, and remember that the details of my life are ultimately out of my hands — they are in the strongest hands possible. I practice pilates on a weekly basis and I also do power yoga. Both pilates and yoga help me connect to my body, be kind to myself, and get out of my head, where thoughts can run rampant and send me spiraling. I love the community aspect of yoga at my local studio and that such diverse groups of people can all be in the room together for an hour in unison, all practicing staying present in the moment, getting stronger, and being kind to the bodies we’ve been given.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Move your body outside as much as possible, and barefoot if possible.
  2. Practice gratefulness for and kindness to your body. As I move my body in various functional ways (walking, running, lifting, hauling, hammering, squatting, stretching), I thank God for my body that works.
  3. Find joyful movement for exercise. I’m done with weightlifting in stinky gyms. It may be for some people, but I’d choose exercise outside any day of the week.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives? I’ve found that the more nutrient-dense food we eat, in its most natural form, the more our bodies crave it. Also, balance is necessary, because none of us are perfect, and I think a lot of us get hung up on perfection and end up throwing in the towel altogether or doing something unhealthy like overdoing it on desserts and alcohol. In my life, I find that I feel best when I eat mostly healthy meats and vegetables throughout the week with some high fiber fruit. I limit caffeine to 1–2 cups of organic coffee or yerba mate in the morning with coconut milk. Then on the weekends, we feast a bit more on things that feel like more of a treat. I like giving my body a break during the week from foods that can be more taxing on the system but also treating myself, because all of us need and want that.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Journaling — this is a way I get out my thoughts and feelings before I even communicate them to anyone else sometimes. It’s raw and unfiltered and I also get a lot of writing ideas this way.
  2. Have a good, cleansing cry every so often. Rather than avoiding, let yourself feel sad about something and let your heart break for things happen in your life or in the lives of people you love. Only by walking through feeling all these emotions can we name them and be freed from them to move to healing.
  3. Laugh hard and often. Make it a point to be around people who make you laugh. Watch shows or listen to books that make you laugh. Laugh until you cry. It’s such a good release.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

YES, SMILE MORE! :) I think about this a lot when out in public. If you really pay attention when you’re in public places, so few people look each other in the eye or smile at each other. But if you go out in public with the intention that you’re going to smile at people and look them in the eye, it makes such a difference.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

For me, “optimum spiritual wellness” means staying in close relationship with God and my faith. Three good spiritual habits for me are:

1) Reading the Bible, prayer (I often do this through journaling).

2) Having a Sabbath day once a week to stop working and recharge. We work a lot on Saturdays, so Sundays are very protected. We worship, feast, rest, connect, soak up nature,

3) Being in a tight-knit community. I don’t just mean a quick hello to an acquaintance at work or in the school pickup line or whatever. I mean, people who really know you. The people you could call in the middle of the night if something went wrong. The people you can ask for help and be there to help them when needed. We cannot do life alone, and when things get really hard, we often need people to hold us up: to remind us of truth and hope and that we are loved beyond measure.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

YES. I believe that God created this world and that we can experience glimpses of the Kingdom here on earth, now. Of course, it’s not perfect or fully redeemed yet, and my faith says that Christ will make all things new one day. It is still fraught with imperfections, violence, evil, brokenness, and things that go very, very wrong. But the kingdom of God isn’t just a far-off place we never get to feel or touch. It is visceral, sometimes behind a thin veil and sometimes at our very fingertips. So, I believe that how we care for the earth, and what we do here on earth matters. In the meantime, we see glimpses of it — on a day that feels gloriously perfect, in those moments of deep connection with friends or family, and I feel it so often around the table when we’re sharing meals and feasting on the fruit of the earth together. There is sacredness in the everyday.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

The movement to preserve childhood. I’ll stand for this as long as there’s breath in me for my own children and for others. I believe that childhood is worth fighting for, and there are too many things warring against the lives of our children. So many children are being raised immersed in screens, even in school, addicted to them at young ages, and spending minimal time outside. We must push back on the trends in our society to fill up children’s schedules, introduce too much screen time, and to sexualize them way too young. It is definitely going against the flow to stand up for this and to speak out against this, and it baffles me how it’s somehow seen as doing our children a favor to push them to grow up too quickly. Let childhood unravel slowly. It is a gift and should be treated that way.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

I’d so love to cook and share a meal with Samin Nosrat, the author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. She seems completely delightful and so fun, and I’ve been so inspired by her work in the world!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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