Christine Bailey is wife to Steven and mama to 15-month-old Luci Isabelle. After working in the music industry in Nashville for many years, then for an African relief organization, she and her husband now own a farm store in Dallas, and would love to have their own farm one day. In her (not so) spare time she shares her art, photography and writings on her blog Dreams of Simple Life, works in her backyard garden, takes walks with her little girl and looks for the beauty in everyday life. “I believe that everyone has some creative spark in them, because we were all made by a Creator, and it’s just a matter of finding what that creativity means to you.”
AHD: For readers who aren’t familiar, how do you describe Urban Acres’ aim?
CB: The goal of Urban Acres is changing our community through real food. It starts with communicating that our food has a story. That is what we truly want people to know. To us this isn’t just about a small neighborhood grocery store or some bins of organic produce, it’s about relationship, people’s health and people’s lives. It’s about the farmers we’ve met who work so hard to provide for us. It’s about providing opportunities for those who might not otherwise be able to eat real, fresh, unprocessed food.
AHD: Art, like anything that enriches life, can be difficult to justify when time and money are scarce. How do you get through to people who just don’t consider healthy eating to be a priority?
CB: It’s no secret that health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are on the rise. Healthy eating is in the mainstream spotlight now more than ever. We’ve had folks come to us and share that their decision to change to organic fruits and veggies, or pastured meats, or low-pasteurized farm milk has eliminated or improved health conditions. We have diabetics who shop at our store and eat to live. We have another customer with a bowel disease and when it flares up, the only thing that helps is our Texas Daily Harvest milk. We have children who are actually eating kale chips as a snack rather than sugary junk food! So even though there are many who feel that healthy eating isn’t a priority, there are many testimonials from those who do.
Before our family started eating primarily organic about 6 years ago, I thought it was too expensive for us, too unattainable. But I found that a lot of that is in the perception. We have people from all income levels who shop at our store and who take part in the co-op style produce. A few suggestions: 1) Take baby steps. You don’t have to change everything right away. 2) Think of other ways you can cut back. Eating out? Shopping? Try to see eating healthy food as an absolute necessity and see what other non-necessities you can sacrifice.
We know there are people in our communities who can barely afford food at all, much less healthy food. So, we’re addressing that in a few ways. We have a “work for food” volunteer program, and we donate tons of organic produce every week to non-profits in the area. We’re also working on food advocacy because there’s a big problem with the system in general. People of low-income levels should have easy access to real food that nourishes their bodies.
AHD: Urban Acres puts a premium on personal relationships with its customers. How do you balance that intimacy with the growth that success brings?
CB: It’s funny; we were just talking about this very topic at a staff meeting last week. The intimacy and personal relationships we have with our customers is not something we wish to compromise as we grow. When you walk into our store, we want to call you by name and know the things you like to eat. We want to hear your favorite ways to cook beets and give you suggestions on what to do with goat cheese. We want our customers to feel like Urban Acres is their store, their place to gather, that they are part of something bigger by walking in. What sets us apart is the personal attention and relationships that we value. A few examples: just the other day, a customer had been looking for their favorite item in our store but it was out of stock. When it came back in stock, our store manager called the customer personally and invited him back. Several times a week, we have our members call and ask what certain items are in their produce bin. We’re happy to help out with recipes or teach people how to enjoy the variety of foods that we’re sharing with them.
AHD: Where do you see Urban Acres in five years?
CB: Well, five years ago, I had no clue we’d own a farm store, so it’s anyone’s guess! I hope Urban Acres expands to other areas of Texas, maybe other states, keeps our intimacy with the communities where we are, and strengthens and promotes the cause of local food. I hope more family farmers thrive because of the work we’re trying to accomplish.
AHD: Knowing that you are based in Oak Cliff, can you explain why that scene is so conducive to mom-and-pop success?
CB: Oak Cliff is a little microcosm of authenticity and diversity. Here, people embrace small family businesses and rebel against chain stores. Word spreads quickly. There’s also an incredible feeling of camaraderie here among local business owners, more than I’ve ever seen. We all help and support each other. We’ve had several customers from Portland, Oregon who’ve recently moved to Oak Cliff and say our neighborhood reminds them of Portland–small, neighborhood feel, non-chain businesses, walking/bike friendly, unique restaurants...we love being here in The OC!
AHD: You’ve talked about the connections made amongst folks at your “farm stand” pick-up locations across Dallas. How does good food cultivate community?
CB: To me, food is sacred, and the very nature of it gathers people together. It’s what nourishes us, and it only makes sense that there would be an overlap in what nourishes our bodies and what nourishes our souls. I believe God created people to live in community, and there is something special that happens over a shared meal. And to know where that food came from only takes it to the next level. I love hearing stories of how people get excited about what’s in their produce share, and how they swap recipes and ideas with other members. That’s what it’s all about.
AHD: You also enjoy writing, painting and photography. Do you consider growing and sharing food to be just as artful?
CB: Yes, I do. For many of the farmers I’ve met, I believe growing food is their art. It’s how they express their God-given creativity and how they impart beauty to the world. My artistic bent is definitely more in the realm of writing, photography and painting/crafts. I don’t exactly have a green thumb for growing my own food! I put a lot of care and creativity into how we share food in our home. I think all these art forms go hand in hand.
AHD: What is the best way to cook bok choy?
CB: Simply! You don’t have to do much. Here’s our favorite way to prepare it at the Bailey home.