Alumni Family Returns to Farming Roots
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If the buzzing of bees does not grab a visitor’s attention at Honeyrun Farm, then perhaps Becky, Jayne and Isaac Barnes’ smiles will. The three come from generational farming families and their positive, genuine personalities quickly reveal their friendly small-town roots. Mere minutes after arriving at their Williamsport, Ohio-based farm, 30 miles south of Columbus, guests find themselves at peace in their presence, surrounded by fields and family homesteads. Becky’s mud-caked pants and boots easily disclose her unrelenting commitment to organic produce farming, and the fact the she is able to take time to chat proves to be a rarity in her normal 15-hour days.
A few moments later, the trio gathers in a family dining room where the smell of old-fashioned homemade chicken and noodles cooking in the kitchen slowly fills the air. Now seated, Becky, Jayne and Isaac begin to share the story of how their joint farming venture evolved.
The place was Wittenberg. Isaac, Becky’s brother and Jayne’s husband, was the first of the three Honeyrun Farm partners to attend what seemed like the family’s alma mater. Isaac’s and Becky’s mother, Karla Krieger Barnes ’72, was the valedictorian of her class, and other relatives had followed the path to Wittenberg as well. As Isaac considered his own college options, Wittenberg easily topped the list.
He also knew something else about his life. To him, life was better lived engaged with the environment and not in the traditional eight-to-five confines of corporate life. His early upbringing certainly inspired his thinking. Growing up in the country on his family’s farm, Isaac would spend countless hours outside, and unlike other kids his age, he could easily decipher what maple trees had sap along with the location of every kind of arrowhead. His love of the outdoors eventually translated into pursuing geology as his major. After graduation, he returned to his hometown for the summers to work but spent the winters out west in Colorado before going to Montana, where he eventually happened upon a trained beekeeper.
“Something just clicked, and I said I really like this,” recalls Isaac, who previously viewed beekeeping as a hobby. “I just loved working with the bees.”
Meanwhile, back in Ohio, Becky was beginning her first year at Wittenberg, where Jayne was a sophomore. The two eventually met in a German class, and subsequent conversations about their respective lives yielded some interesting connections. Jayne, it turns out, had grown up on a dairy farm, while Becky’s family farm produced grain. Jayne’s parents’ farm was located in a small northern Ohio Mennonite community, where Jayne’s high school graduating class consisted of only 70 students. For Jayne, coming to Wittenberg offered unprecedented avenues and opportunities for personal growth.
“I wanted to go to Wittenberg to make my own way,” she says. “I knew Wittenberg would allow me to think about the world in so many ways.”
Becky and Jayne also discovered that they shared an interest in sociology with both majoring in the same discipline.
“I saw how I could use sociology to understand all other perspectives,” Jayne adds. “Sociology infl uenced how I see the world as well as the way I understand my occupation and how systems work.”
As Becky and Jayne’s friendship grew, so did a dream – one that actually became more real during a trip to Germany their junior year. They began to wonder if they could find a way to start their own farm not using the traditional farming techniques passed down to them by their parents. Could they combine their interests in organic living and farming, and still be successful?
Determined to find out, Becky and Jayne decided to seek out some actual experience with organic farming, so they headed to Big Sky country where Jayne entered graduate school at the University of Montana. Although both had tried the eight-to-five world for a short time, Becky and Jayne could not deny their respective soul’s work. Farming was their passion, and when an opportunity arose to work on an organic farm in Montana, they took it.
“We had no clue what we were doing,” Becky remembers.
Around this time, another interesting development occurred. After dating for years, Jayne and Isaac, now a trained beekeeper himself, married, and the three decided to head back to Becky and Isaac’s home base of Williamsport. The circle in some ways now complete, Becky and Jayne’s organic farming dream became even more enriched thanks to Isaac’s expertise in honey production. By 2008, the three were ready to open for business, and Honeyrun Farm was born.
Committed to serving its market with fresh, sustainably grown vegetables and flowers, raw honey, and handcrafted soap, Honeyrun Farm strives to produce environmentally mindful goods by taking a step back in time into small-scale farming with a focus on diversity, freshness and ecologically friendly practices.
Living their dream and adhering to the farm’s mission and vision have proved rewarding and challenging. On any given day and during all hours of the day, Becky, who handles the produce component of Honeyrun Farm, can be found planting, picking and transporting everything from Asian greens and Swiss chard to sweet corn and scorzonera. Jayne focuses on growing flowers for sale along with homemade soap production, while Isaac manages 75 hives with about 50,000 bees each in his quest to provide the finest honey.
The hours all three commit to their separate crafts and to Honeyrun Farm as a whole may seem unimaginable to those pursuing non-agricultural careers. Even more inspiring is just how focused they are not only on their work, but also on their work as it relates to life. While office politics at times bog down corporate efficiency, the Barnes’ family produces on pure adrenalin. While modern technology advances their business, Becky, Isaac and Jayne leave the texting and e-mail to non-work times, preferring instead to create memories of home-cooked meals and meaningful conversation around a family table.
“Our dream is to be farmers who can make enough for the kids,” Jayne says, holding her 3-month-old girl, Maizy, in her arms with 2-year-old big brother Mason standing near Isaac. “I want our kids to grow up on a farm and eat the produce right out of the ground. Kids should see the connection with nature.”
They also want to teach them the definition of hard work and responsibility.
“Digging 100 feet of potatoes is hard, but I do it because I believe it’s a better product and something you just can’t get from the store,” Jayne says. “No matter how much work it takes, it’s the product that matters most to me.”
“I’m inspired by the customers,” Becky adds. “I know them, so I’ll go pick tomatoes at 11 p.m. because I know my customers appreciate it.”
Columbus-based restaurants desiring organically grown produce, honey and flowers, along with a range of local farmers’ markets provide the majority of income for Honeyrun Farm. As the full-time organic produce farmer, Becky ensures that her customers receive what they request – no matter what.
Just this evening, as a light autumn rain shower blankets her plantings and the air turns a crisp 45 degrees, Becky ventures outside to continue picking the best vegetables for her loyal customers and then prepares them for personal delivery.
“Becky works incredibly hard,” Jayne explains. “It’s amazing. She does it because she believes in it.”
“I was raised around grain farms, and I often hear advice from neighbors on organic farming,” says Becky, who has carved out a section of her family’s farm for her organic produce operation. “Some think it is silly or not the best way. Sometimes I also have to help people see that I am the farmer, and that I’m doing this work by myself. But I know my product, and I know where it came from.”
“It’s never a normal day,” Isaac adds. “The bees, for me, are a wild animal, and sometimes I feel like we put in so many hours without always knowing the result. But it’s then that I realize that this is who we are. We’re establishing our soul.”