Buzzing back into business: A whirlwind year for Swope’s Berries & Bees | Local News

When a tornado destroyed years of work at Swope’s Berries & Bees in the blink of an eye, it was never questioned whether the business would rebuild.

“We’re not quitters,” said Ron Swope, who operates the Hopewell Township farm with his wife, Kathy.

A pair of tornadoes touched down in Washington County on Oct. 21, 2021. The tornado, categorized as an EF-2, with wind speeds reaching as high as 130 mph, moved from Hopewell into Mt. Pleasant Township, destroying homes and causing severe damage to multiple farms.

When the Swopes married 46 years ago, neither had much of a background in farming.

“We didn’t grow up on farms,” ​​Kathy said.

The Swopes had faced challenges before, and were determined to put their farm back together.

“We bought a farm together and started from scratch, and it was tough. It was tough. We’ve pushed through some hard times, ”Ron said during a recent interview.

They lost about 40 beehives, and the Swopes estimated there were about 25,000 bees in each hive.

“It’s a million,” Ron said of the number of bees lost.

Luckily for Ron and Kathy, they also keep some hives on neighboring farms, and those survived the storm.

“That was a blessing that we didn’t have them all here … They were untouched,” Ron said.

They have about a dozen hives on their property currently, and were fortunate to have a good winter season.

“The other hives that we had, they almost all survived the wintertime,” Kathy said. “You always lose some, but we hardly lost any.”

Even with the huge loss of bees, Ron said they are not sure how it will affect honey production, and that more bees does not always equate to more honey.

“It depends on the nectar flow. I could have a hundred hives and have a poor nectar flow and get very little honey. I could have 50 hives and get a high nectar flow and get the same amount of honey. It really depends on what Mother Nature does as far as the bloom goes. So far the bees are bringing in a lot of nectar for this time of year, so that’s a good sign, ”Ron said.

In addition to the loss of bees, the tornado took out large chunks of their raspberry and blueberry crops. Neighbors helped them rebuild by offering new trellises for free.

The tornado also destroyed a shed that housed their farm equipment, including a tractor they were unable to salvage.

Ron could not place a specific figure on the monetary damages caused by the storm. “It’s in the six figures,” he said.

A new barn stands in the spot of the old one, and the Swopes decided to make some changes with the new structure.

There is now a partition separating the storage equipment from where they conduct transactions for the pick-your-own berries part of their farm, which will return this year in late June and run through July.

Customers who have frequented Swope’s over the years have been a big help when it came to rebuilding. Ron and Kathy described an immense outpouring of support from the community, from both familiar and unfamiliar faces.

“It was fantastic. We had so many people reaching out to us, that if I had said, ‘Come,’ I don’t know what I would have done with everybody. It would have been a real chore just trying to organize the number of people that wanted to come help. People offered their equipment, they offered their time, ”Ron said.

“People we didn’t even know,” Kathy added.

Swope’s Berries & Bees is located at 366 Willow Road. They sell several products, including honey, lip balm and soap on their website, swopesberriesandbees.com. The setbacks from the tornado also won’t stop the Swopes from having a stand at the Main Street Farmers Market on May 19, either.

“As we look back, after we got through all that rainy, wet weather that followed the tornado, we were very fortunate. It gives me a whole new appreciation when I hear there’s a tornado watch, ”Ron said. “I take them a little more seriously than I used to.”

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