'This was the dream': Tennessee family finds connection in farming, hosting epic feasts

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

Christine and Steven Bailey were looking for that "Saturday morning feeling," a life of peaceful fulfillment. They wanted to play an active role in their local food system and, in doing so, cultivate simplicity. 

In 2017, the couple broke ground on Kindred Farm in rural Santa Fe, Tennessee, about an hour southwest of Nashville. Besides produce, Kindred grows connections, said farmer and author Christine Bailey. It's a place where people can cultivate friendships over farm dinners and also form relationships with the origins of their food. 

"We just want people to feel a certain sense of connection and peace when they come to the farm," she said. "I really believe our land is meant to be shared. Everything we do here is about cultivating that."

This May, the Baileys' partially forested 17 acres were coming alive. The sunflowers were beginning to grow taller, and the bachelor's buttons were blooming. The tomato plants were still young, but green and well-prepared for vigorous growth when the heat of late spring sets in. 

Luci Bailey picks flowers on the farm.

The Baileys used to sell their produce at tailgate markets but felt their best work happened on their land, especially at the communal dining tables they set up near the flower fields or in the high tunnel hoop houses when the weather is poor.

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Christine Bailey with a chick on Kindred Farm.

During the couple's farm dinners, Steven Bailey, a chef, serves handmade dumplings in 36-hour bone broth and composes seasonal salads based on Kindred produce. He makes blistered wood-fired pizzas and handmade pastas, and serves roasted, pasture-raised chicken in black garlic cream sauce.

"It's just a beautiful, communal experience around the table," Christine Bailey said. 

Diners linger for hours, though some at first balk at the time commitment. 

"I felt a kinship with the land immediately," wrote Christine Bailey of the moment she first set foot on what would become her farm. "I knew this soil was where we would continue our journey of growing food, family and community."

"I truly believe we have to carve out the space for that connection," Bailey said. "If you set aside the time and create the space, it will unfold naturally. I believe that's how we were created and how we were meant to connect."

That's a big part of the focus of her new book, released on May 17. "The Kindred Life: Stories & Recipes to Cultivate a Life of Organic Connection" is both a story of a life lived with authentic connection and a guide on how to get there.

The table, all set for connection.

Christine Bailey took a circuitous route to become an author and farmer, she said. She grew up in a suburban Italian-American neighborhood in New Jersey and was raised with no real connection to farming except stories of her grandfather's prolific gardens. 

She studied at Nashville's Belmont University in pursuit of a career in the music industry, a path she kept on for nearly a decade. She also worked with nonprofits, as did her husband. The two met at a conference in Missouri, where they quickly united over their passions for travel, lives of service and the importance of taking brave leaps. 

At the table on Kindred Farm.

Kindred was another shared passion, an idea that came together through late-night talks and the determination to work toward a common goal: a farm created out of the dirt by two people without major farm experience.

"I think probably the best part of this whole thing is that this was the dream," said Steven Bailey, standing outside the commercial kitchen the couple built in a barn.

"Everyone has a dream, whatever that is to them," he said. "We have the dream of like, we want to be able to farm and want to be able to cultivate and gather people together." 

"One of the hardest and most important truths I’ve learned on the farm is that sometimes you have to cut down something that’s still growing in order to make room for something new," Christine Bailey wrote in her recently released book, "The Kindred Life: Stories & Recipes to Cultivate a Life of Organic Connection."

Christine Bailey's book is a memoir detailing her path to Kindred, from the first time meeting the man who would become her husband to what it means to raise a family on a working farm. 

But more than that, she said, it's meant to inspire people who feel similarly moved to live what she called "a life of connection."

"I think the biggest personal lesson for me is that we have to choose to push through the hard things, to push through the challenges," she said. "There will be so much beauty and goodness that will unfold from that."

Roasted vegetables on the table at a recent Kindred Farm dinner.

The soil reminds her of that every day, she added.

"There's always something beautiful sprouting out of the dirt and the mess, and that's a symbol I think for our lives in so many ways, and we just have to choose to see that."

Learn more about the book and upcoming Kindred Farm dinners at www.thekindredfarm.com. The next public farm event, a family friendly dinner with artisan pizza, will be on June 11. You can also order farm-made goods at the-kindred-farm.myshopify.com.

Recipe: Kindred Farm Salad

One of the best ways to highlight Kindred Farm produce is with a salad that's more than just a pile of lettuce leaves.

To be sure, at its heart is a type of lettuce called “salanova,” which the farm grows year-round. It grows in a variety of shapes.

"When it’s growing down a 100-foot row, densely planted, it looks like a 100-foot purple and green carpet," Christine Bailey wrote in her book, which features the salad recipe below. "When we harvest it, we remove the leaves from the core and mix it all together to create our Buttery Sweet Salad Mix."

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Salad of farm-fresh vegetables at Kindred Farm.

Any fresh, fluffy lettuce will do for this recipe, she said, including spring mix or romaine mixed with butter lettuce. Iceberg won't work, but any other store-bought lettuce is fine. Purchasing greens from your local farmer is best, she said.

"The Kindred Farm Salad is one thing we make where people are constantly saying 'How do you make a salad like this?'" Christine Bailey said. 

The secret: A variety of textures and colors to create an interesting mix on the plate, and a simple vinaigrette, as outlined in her recipe below. 

Reprinted with permission from "The Kindred Life: Stories & Recipes to Cultivate a Life of Organic Connection (Harper Collins)."

Farm salad on the table at Kindred.

Ingredients

1/2 cup spring mix lettuce per person

Veggies. Choose any or all:

  • Thinly sliced cucumbers
  • Carrots peeled into long ribbons
  • Halved cherry tomatoes
  • Thinly sliced celery
  • Sliced bell peppers or sweet peppers
  • Halved garlic-stuffed green olives
  • Grated raw beets
  • Sliced radishes
  • Broccoli or cauliflower florets, finely chopped

Creamy. Choose one:

  • Crumbled goat cheese
  • Crumbled feta cheese
  • Raw Parmesan cheese peeled into shavings

Crunchy. Choose one or two:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Honey-toasted cashews
  • Toasted almonds
  • Toasted pecans
  • Toasted walnuts

Sweet. Choose one:

  • Pitted dates, chopped
  • Raisins
  • Dried figs
  • Dried apricots

Finishing touches. Choose one or two.

  • Sprinkle of nutritional yeast
  • Sprinkle of hemp seeds
  • Sprinkle of garlic powder
  • Edible flowers

Instructions

Start with the foundation, and then add all the extras. I can’t give you exact measurements for these, but I can tell you that as you add them, you’ll want to either put each element in a tight pile and then pile the next thing next to it, or evenly place each item over the surface of your bed of lettuce. When you’re done adding toppings, the entire top of your bowl should be covered, without any lettuce showing. When you toss it with the dressing, it’ll come together like magic.

Kindred Farm go-to vinaigrette

(Makes approximately 4 servings)

Ingredients

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 to 1/2 cup acid (apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, fresh lemon juice, champagne vinegar, or red wine vinegar)

3 to 4 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Big pinch of sea salt to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

Instructions

In a large jar with a lid, combine the olive oil, acid, mustard, sea salt and pepper. Close the lid tightly and shake hard! Shake until the Dijon blends in well, there are no lumps, and the dressing looks blended and creamy.

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

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Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com