From agriculture to music, Appalachian culture is rich with traditions. The land provides endless inspiration for farmer and musician Barry Bales. He and his family run Bales Farms, a 6th-generation family farm in Tennessee that sells pastured pork and poultry, and grass-fed beef.
Barry Bales is also a Grammy-award winning musician. He plays bass and sings harmonies for the bluegrass band Alison Krauss and Union Station. To help tell his story, he pulled out his guitar and recorded an original song about his journey from musician to farmer.
“As I grew to be a young man, I packed my bags and I ran, and left the only home I’d ever known,” he sings. “I set out with my old guitar, I started playing in the bars, never knew a man could feel so alone. Now all those worldly places, I’ve seen them all before. Most ain’t so good, but some ain’t so bad. Though I’ve sailed upon the seven seas there’s no place that I’d rather be than right here in the hills of Tennessee.”
It was in those hills of Tennessee that Barry Bales first fell in love with the land that his family has farmed since 1882.
“My grandparents lived here and farmed this farm,” he says. “They would come and pick me up the day school let out for the summer. I spent pretty much literally every day of every summer and every spare moment the rest of the time that I could down here and you know my granddaddy was my hero. I loved being on the farm and following him around.”
When Barry was 10 years old, he started learning how to play guitar. His father played music, and so did friends and neighbors who stopped by in the evenings. “In the early days when I was learning, we would get the instruments out after supper and sit around the living room, just to have fun.”
Then he grew up and moved to the big city of Nashville. He joined the band Alison Krauss and Union Station, and played with the likes of Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, and Willie Nelson.
“After 30 years of thumbing, picking, singing, strumming, I made my name and grew to be a star,” he sings. “This big old world, it was my stage, but as my life did turn a page, I realized I’d traveled much to far. I’ve seen all the sights there are to see, but I hear my home calling me, calling me from where the laurels bloom. I’m going back first chance I get, on that old porch I’m going to sit, gazing out on the hills of home.”
Now Barry is back on the family farm with his wife Aliceson and son Marshall. Marshall is in charge of raising the chickens and selling the eggs at just 11-years-old.
“I wanted him to have a taste of the life that I had as as a boy. He’s kind of our animal whisperer anyway. If there’s an animal that needs to be called or put up or fed or petted or whatever we call him,” he says.
Barry is still a professional musician and sometimes travels for work while his family takes care of the farm. But even when he’s far from home, the hills of Tennessee are always on his mind.
“It’s a great thought that I’m going home to the farm and I’m going to be out on the tractor and clear my head and get some fresh air,” he says. “It’s like when a kid gets turned loose from school on summer vacation. I can get out and get my hands dirty and mess with the animals. It’s a good feeling.”
Thanks to Barry Bales for recording his original song for this episode. Learn more about Bales Farms and other farmers who carry on Southern Appalachian traditions in ASAP’s Local Food Guide – www.appalachiangrown.org