2017-09-01 / Start Here

Growing a Community

In The Barn at Lemont, Brian and Gabrielle Kinney are nurturing a local homesteading culture.
Dana Ray | Photo by Matt Fern

The Barn at Lemont smells immediately of all things homey: garden soil, candles and cut wood. The next barn down the road from Happy Valley Brewing Company, where Lush Brothers furniture was housed for many years, the new business feels like a tucked-away treasure, full of unexpected surprises and delights. Where else can you go in State College any day of the week and find kombucha, brewing gear, locally made pasta, hand-crafted wood furniture and organic gardening supplies? And that doesn’t begin to cover it. You might even see locals stop by to pick up their CSA share of fruits and vegetables from area farmers.

The Barn at Lemont has become more than the garden center Brian and Gabrielle Kinney originally imagined. It has become a community hub for all things homesteading: that all-encompassing passion to live sustainably and with care for the earth. “Why buy it if you can make it?” is the thinking — and the folks who come through The Barn share that thought. It’s one that matters a lot to Brian and Gabi and their business partners Marc Kinney (Brian’s brother) and Jonas Stryker.

Brian and Gabi are transplants to the area from Philadelphia. They came here two years ago to launch this “crazy idea” for an organic garden center, an extension of Brian’s family business in the Williamsport area. He’d been inspired by his work in food photography to learn more about where food came from and the systems around it. They launched the Organic Garden Center and then, last January, they opened the space to a collective of other local businesses. “We wanted to be surrounded by businesses who were aligned with what we were doing. The right people came on board and there’s not a product in here we wouldn’t vouch for,” Brian says.

“What we want people to know about us is our sincerity and integrity,” Jonas Stryker adds. “It’s so important that we use the stuff we sell. I will never try to convince anyone to buy something I haven’t used myself. We believe it and that’s important. We’ve got a standard we meet in everything we sell.”

“This is our baby!” Gabi says. “I hope people see how much love we put into this.” Though equally passionate, she came into this less directly than her husband. “I was going to go to school for merchandizing,” she says. “I just wasn’t expecting it to be in gardening instead of fashion!”

For Gabi, the real joy is in delighting customers with finds they weren’t expecting. “People come in for soil and leave with locally made and sourced jewelry. I love the unexpected finds.” Now, she handles much of the public communication and marketing. The four business partners share the day-to-day management of the store.

For all of them, the focus is on keeping the place — a brick-and-mortar outlet in an increasingly Amazonian world — viable. “We work hard to make it worthwhile to be here. If you are our customer, you’re family,” Stryker says. For this team, that’s the biggest differentiator from online retailers. The return to a retail store as a community resource isn’t unique — Philadelphia has six similar stores and Pittsburgh has three. “They are saturated markets. But no one was serving Central Pennsylvania at all,” Brian says.

Community is a big part of the mission at The Barn, and classes are key in bringing people together to share knowledge. Classes are held in the upstairs loft of the barn, a breezy, cozy space that can fit about 30 people. Recently, they’ve offered classes in beekeeping, home brewing, kombucha fermentation and hydroponic growing. “We’ve even offered classes for private groups. Come brew your own beer and then pick it up two weeks later. You get to know that you had a hand in making it,” Brian says. The space is also available for rent for private parties.

Besides community, this big dream is rooted in education. “We want to see more people growing their own food, understanding what it takes to be healthier and more sustainable,” Brian says. The partners have dreams of expanding the business to extend their impact, but that won’t be for another few years. For now, they are happy in their snug barn home and excited to see the ways their homesteading business can equip and supply a growing cultural movement in Central PA.

Dana Ray is a why finder, wordsmith and idea wrangler. She is a consultant helping individuals and business owners find and apply their ‘why.’

Return to top