Home » The Connection from Plate to Work: Brian Coppom at TEDxBoulder (Transcript)

The Connection from Plate to Work: Brian Coppom at TEDxBoulder (Transcript)

Brian Coppom – TRANSCRIPT

I picked this up on the way here. Local farmer.. (Sighs) Man, I love a good, ripe, juicy tomato. When I smell this, it takes me right back to my grandfather’s garden. My brother and I each have a salt shaker. We run across the lawn to get one of these ripe, plump, sunbathing beauties. When I take that first bite, it’s for one reason and one reason only, and that is to put the salt on.

The salt comes out and I am in heaven! I will never forget those moments. I felt so alive, so present. As I became an adult, my idea of alive and present was to be a successful businessman. But not just successful I was going to be somebody that people admired.

I had huge dreams and they were all about me. Let me share a little sequence with you. I pull up to an exclusive local restaurant in my very powerful sports car, walk in, survey the scene, ten o’clock – heavy hitter. I give him one of these. He gives me one back. We share the secret language of success I have arrived. But it turns out that dream was a rotten tomato. Forty years after that perfect day in the garden, I am mentally and physically exhausted. Over the last 25 years, I had, with high hopes, started a company, then frantically started the second, and then desperately started the third.

I was traveling from airport to airport, strange town to strange town, practically living among strangers. I was so isolated and desperate. I didn’t even know how far I had gone from my own values. That day I collapsed into my living room chair. I was looking out of the window and as if for the first time, I saw the oak tree outside of our window.

It is a beauty. Seventy feet tall it must be, deeply rooted. Maybe it was the solidity of that tree that brought me to realization that would deeply disturb me, and yet I knew, I knew. I had it coming. I’m a phony. Really? Yeah, a complete fake. I wasn’t the person that I thought I was. I’m sensitive, caring, at times uncertain. I tried hard to be everything but that I was a ridiculously bad version of myself and I really sucked at being anybody else. I thought, “What am I modeling to my children?” Serve your fears. Forget your heart. That’s not what I wanted them to know.

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And then my wife Nancy did something completely unremarkable that led to a chain of unremarkable events that would change my life forever. One o’clock in the morning I get home from a long travel trip; 14 hours, three different airports, and I am exhausted. I’m so ready for sleep and my head is about to hit that pillow: “Honey?”

“Yes?”

“I signed us up to plant fruit trees tomorrow morning.”

“Fruit trees? Great.”

[Really?!]

So, there we were. Next morning and by two o’clock in the afternoon I am filthy, I am tired, the kids are running around wild, I’m so sunburned; it hurts. But I kind of like this. By the time we left that afternoon, I was looking across the fields and they had that pastoral view that I think is intended to seduce us to become farmers. Now, I’m no farmer; I found out that is really hard work; But, something happened.

Something touched me. I felt at peace and at home. I felt like an ancient vital memory had woken up and that feeling stuck with me. And then Nancy started a bakery. Yeah! It’s pretty cool when you know someone who starts a bakery. I tell you what – I used to be thinner. And she got into the farmers’ market as a vendor and I said, “Congratulations! Oh, this is so awesome!”

“Thank you. You know, I’m not an early morning person, so would you mind setting up the booth for me?”

“Yeah, sure, no problem.”

I’m there right when I’m supposed to be. Five minutes later, from across the way, attractive young woman sees me, comes walking straight at me, extends her hand and says: “Hi, I’m Michelle.” Oh, my God, she’s hitting on me! I’m terrified! Wait a minute, she did the same thing with the cheese vendor. I looked around and I saw that everybody was doing it. They were all talking to each other, saying hello, catching up. Even the customers were getting into it. It’s like they knew the vendors.

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They knew each other. It is so weird! People, where is the competition? The envy, the backstabbing? It feels so strange! This is definitely… you know what? I think I read about this somewhere. I think it was called community. I think that’s what they called it. Well, I didn’t know what it was, but I was kind of loving it.

Since that time, I have discovered just how much of a difference buying from a local farmer can make in my own life. I know I need to eat, I know that it’s good for the environment, I know it’s good for the economy, I know that a dollar spent locally, goes around six times instead of one time, it builds resilient cities, blah, blah, blah. What I hadn’t realized – oh, and by the way, it tastes super good – but I didn’t realize that it would improve my marriage, improve my romantic life, and make me much more popular. When I’m in my kitchen, expertly massaging the kale, four-arm-massaged kale salad, deftly slicing those onions, the way Nancy looks at me is unmistakable. Oh, yeah. She looks down and she says, “Are those tongs in your pocket or you’re happy to see me?”

“Honey, these are tongs, but I am really happy to see you.”

We are connecting. When I go around town, there are people that I’ve met at the market, or met at the farm stand. I see them all over the place. I feel so popular. They are like, “Hey, hi” I don’t even know if we share the same religious or political beliefs, but we’re still connecting I got to tell you, I’m still a little unsettling with all of this. When we have dinner parties, it is so hard to keep the conversation shallow. There’s something about buying the food from your farmer, knowing where it comes from, preparing it yourself.

Somehow it compels us to be open and honest with one another. Open and honest. For a guy that’s spent his life being a pretender and a poser, darn, it’s kind of vulnerable. Maybe a little dangerous. But it’s not just me. The Farm to Table, Farm to Mouth, Farm to Fork, whatever you want to call it – it’s not just marketing; it’s real. It’s subtle, but it’s real and it’s powerful.

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For instance, in 2013, there was a literature review that found that the elderly and aging who gardened have a lower incidence of pain, lower needs for medication, higher cognition and they’re generally happier. And returning veterans who participate in farm programs are finding that they have lower experience of PTSD and they are reintegrating into civilian culture easier. But it’s not just about those who have obvious trauma or challenges.

Local food can even help a privileged, misguided white guy like me. Businessmen take-note: Harvard Business Review did a study and found negotiations that occur over a meal are 12% more likely to be profitable for both parties. And there are ten times more conversations that happen at a farmers’ market than at the grocery store. I think what that means is if you want to be alone and miserable, don’t go to the farmers’ market. Not a good place to be.

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