Mike and Mary Ann Hegner raised their three daughters, Sarah, Tracy, and Erin, in the suburbs of Cincinnati. The family’s main exposure to agriculture was through stories of Grandpa Herb Hegner living off the land, raising rabbits and keeping bees. During summer vacations to Oregon, they also spent time visiting a friend’s cattle ranch. Mary Ann always kept a small vegetable garden in the backyard each summer, and both parents fostered a love of the outdoors in their children. It was not a conventional start for a farming family, but the seeds were planted.
Sarah Hegner established a career in market research in Cincinnati, but was inspired by the local food movement, love of nature, and family history to keep bees in her city backyard. This eventually expanded to also include a small flock of chickens and three raised beds for growing vegetables.
Josh Piel grew up in Pittsburgh, but spent every summer at his family’s farm in Maysville, Kentucky. This eventually led him to the University of Kentucky where he studied Animal Sciences, specializing in beef cattle management, and then moved to the family farm. He started growing an acre of vegetables each summer and also keeping bees. This shared love of beekeeping is what eventually brought Sarah and Josh together.
Josh and Sarah were married in August of 2015. With the partnership of Mike, MaryAnn, Tracy, and Erin, Willow Branch Farm was founded in Brooksville, Kentucky. Sarah and Josh currently live on the farm and manage daily operations.
Tracy Hegner maintains the family’s cosmopolitan ties. She resides in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Cincinnati with her adorable tiny dog, Mabel, and works as a Nurse Anesthetist. When she isn’t maintaining airways and saving lives, Tracy also helps out on the farm. Although she’s a city dweller, she’s never been afraid to get her hands dirty.
Erin Lipps and her husband, Kevin, are keeping the suburban traditions strong in Cleves, Ohio. Erin works as an audiologist and Kevin works in supply chain management. Kevin’s experience as an electrician comes in handy on the farm. Erin and Kevin have also started working on the next generation of farm labor. Their twins were born in September of 2017.
Mike and Mary Ann maintain the original family residence in Delhi, a suburb of Cincinnati, but they can be found almost every day working on the farm. They retired from their city careers in 2016 and 2017 to focus their energy on getting the farm up and running. Although they now sport farmers tans instead of swimsuit tan lines, they look forward to the success of the family farm and are a vital part of its operation.
Willow Branch Farm got its name from the Willow Branch tributary of the Licking River that runs along its border, with the other border marked by the North Fork of the Licking. The farm is made up of almost 200 acres of rolling pastures, bottomland, and woods.
Prior to our acquisition of the farm in 2015, much of the land was leased out for tobacco farming and cattle. There was very little infrastructure in place. Much of that first year was spent building the necessary infrastructure, including fencing, pasture renovation, housing for both animals and people, and the start of what is now a separate building for cleaning and refrigeration of vegetables and fruit.
While that work continues, we have also been able to establish our herd of pasture-raised low line Angus cattle, a flock of free range egg laying chickens, mobile housing for meat chickens, several acres of vegetables and fruit, a hop yard, and 20 beehives. We’ve built this all with the goal of sustainability and harmony with the environment. We use organic methods as much as possible and are working with state and federal grants to help preserve highly erodible land and establish plots of native plants for pollinators.
It is our belief that these methods will help us to provide you the healthiest possible products directly from our farm. You can currently purchase our products at Findlay Market, Delhi Farmer’s Market, Montgomery Farmers Marker, or directly from us. We keep our Facebook page updated with the latest on availability of chicken, eggs, and vegetables. Our next beef will be ready for sale in May.
On our farm we make plans, but it is ultimately Mother Nature who calls the shots. Each year brings us more lessons. In that same spirit, we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions, or if there is something you’re looking for that you think we can provide. We are always looking forward to what the next season has in store.