Everyone in bluegrass knows Barry Bales as one of the best bass players in our music, and increasingly as a songwriter and producer as well. His many years of service with Alison Kraus & Union Station have cemented his position as an all-star, not to mention his more recent work with The Earls Of Leicester.
We caught up with Barry last week on tour with AKUS to talk about his latest venture, a return to his childhood passion for the land.
He lives with his wife, Aliceson, and their son, Marshall, on the family farm where Barry was raised in east Tennessee. Known simply as Bales Farm, Barry now tends a small herd of 5 steers and 8 hogs, along with a larger contingent of chickens. And over recent years, it has grown from his relaxing avocation when home from the road, to a legitimate business with serious growth potential.
Bales says that it all began with his desire to give Marshall a chance to experience farm life.
“It started as us raising animals for us to eat – chickens, hogs, steer. I wanted my son to have a little taste of what I had growing up, and I had missed having all the animals around.
We eventually started giving some away to friends and family, and decided to grow it a bit. Now we have a few restaurants we supply.”
Bales likes the hands-on nature of the business, though his wife has to take care of things when he is traveling.
“We didn’t really set out to do anything commercial, and lot of this is schedule dependent. I always enjoyed farm life as a kid, and now I have some more time home between tours.
I can take a steer and a pig to processing most every time I get home. We just got a large commercial freezer so we can keep more inventory. There is a USDA inspected processor nearby in Bristol who does the pork and beef. The closest place for chickens is in Lexington, KY. We have a freezer on the trailer to bring the processed meat back home.”
All of the livestock are pastured, including the chickens, which are Marshall’s responsibility.
“My son is in charge of the egg business. He’s 11 years old and I want to teach him a work ethic – the value of hard work and money. However hard you want to work is how much you can make.”
Marshall is now the sixth generation Bales to work this property, and Barry has clear memories of helping his grandfather with the steers when he was a child.
He says that the popularity of the localvore movement has been a big impetus for them to increase their production.
“I have no vision of trying to get it into Wal-Mart, but we are working towards expanding our footprint. We are close to Knoxville and Asheville, and hope to move into those markets. Maybe a once-a-quarter trip down to Nashville.
We’re about to the point to where we’ll be needing some part time help, but I like doing this myself.
People who like what we are doing understand that we can’t have meat ready year round. The chefs just like me to let them know when we have product.”
And he has no interest in mail order.
“We are firm believers in the local part of the local food thing, so weep our footprint as small as we can. Small farms now provide 5-7% of the food people eat. That may be a small number, but I say it just shows huge room for growth!”
He and Aliceson are working on a web site now that will soon have more details about their organic food business, and folks in east Tennessee can contact them to see what is available. Visit them at balesfarmtn.com.