Hillside Honey Apiary is one of the businesses listed in our membership directory. Following is a Q-and-A with the owners, Ty and Shelley Martin, on their life as homeschoolers and business owners.
What made you decide to start your business?
We were in the middle of our transition from Active Army to retired Army when we were approached by the former owner of Hillside Honey, Beth Ward. Her husband, Ron, had taught Ty beekeeping in 2007 after his second tour in Iraq, as a way to relax and handle stress.
It was a LONG tour. While Ty was in Afghanistan, Ron unfortunately passed away and Beth’s brother managed the business. When Ty was in the retirement process from the Army, Beth decided it was time to move on and approached us about buying the business. We prayed about it and bought Hillside Honey in October 2013.
About the same time, we were able to buy an old high school built in 1920 in the town of Easton, Kansas that we are working to turn into an educational apiary as well as the base for L.I.N.K. – Learning in Northeast Kansas, a Christian homeschool co-op we helped co-found.
God just lined everything up to fall into place perfectly. It was amazing. We continue to be amazed every day!
Could you describe a typical day for your family?
Typically, Ty is either working bee yards or down at the apiary answering the phone, managing our office hours, processing and bottling honey, filling orders, making deliveries, as well as remodeling, repairing and general maintenance of the school, office, vehicles, the land and so on!
He is my wonderful husband and friend as well as a father/farmer/beekeeper/volunteer firefighter/military contractor/homeschool group facilitator/church deacon/entrepreneur. I wouldn’t trade any of it in, for nothin’, because it’s all what makes him who God designed him to be!
Meanwhile, I am homeschooling our youngest in the mornings 8 a.m.-noon at home while multitasking with dishes, laundry, etc. Wednesday morning is our homeschool co-op where I help teach, assist and occasionally run around to put random fires out, as some have said. We finish school in the afternoons at home.
Fridays is our crazy day, because we go down and Gideon, our youngest, works on homework in the office, while I work in the kitchen next to him making skin-care products and creamed honeys. Every day is a balancing act!
We must work together to share the work load. Even our response to this has been a dual effort (with chunks written by both of us over the past 48 hours!).
God is gracious in helping us balance it all. We always make sure to find those moments to rest in Him and enjoy the fun moments, too!
When we need a little break, we all run next door into the gym and shoot a few hoops with the basketballs for a 15-minute break or race Gideon’s remote control trucks across the floor, before we get back to business! That helps keep the fun in our busy! It’s also pretty cool having a school gym attached to our office!
Do your children help you in your business? If so, how?
Our children are Rachel (19), Sarah (16), and Gideon (11). Rachel is in college with plans to major in music. She also teaches several piano students. Being shy by design, applying what she has learned by teaching it herself has been a tremendous confidence builder.
Hillside Honey booth at a farmers market in 2015.
When she is not studying for a test, writing papers, or helping with chores and such, she helps Ty with moving bee hives, bottling honey, and tapping into her creative side with her newest Hillside Honey contribution: honey bears with personality (she decorates them with outfits for weddings, birthdays, and themes like army soldiers, bakers, Americana, baseball, football, princesses, etc.).
Sarah is my ‘Perfect Paula’ personality and does all her schoolwork on her own, including one foreign language class that she takes with her sister. Because of our busy lifestyle, I agree with the concept of teaching your children to teach themselves. As adults, we practice this frequently ourselves.
Sarah does chores and math, goes into town for her German class, and returns home to finish her other subjects. She loves to bake and create, so her specialty is helping with skin-care products and creamed honeys. We have been brainstorming either a new product, creamed honey chocolates, or possibly a honey bakery option, to tap into her gifts. She also is an avid artist, and has had several cute honeybee drawings that may appear in some manner in the near future.
Our youngest, Gideon, is the carbon copy of his dad, and my dad, and is chock-full of business-savvy, social engagement and entrepreneurial vision! Just as Rachel is ‘shy by design’, God has clearly designed Gideon to be outgoing. He loves to explain products, talk with people and work on new ideas and projects, as long as there is one key element involved: friends!
All three of them are a tremendous blessing to our lives, family, and the family adventure called Hillside Honey! Each has a personality that shows throughout the family business as a whole. It makes this new journey that God has placed us on so exciting and purposeful.
What has it been like balancing homeschool and your business?
It was very difficult the first year, but as with everything in life, God equipped and helped us persevere. We are into our second year and still learning the work-life balance.
It is not just how to balance the two, but also about how to venture into being the husband-and-wife team we are, best friends, as well as business adventurers and partners.
It is similar to when you start homeschooling: learning the balance of being a teacher and a parent (everyone is a combination of these two already, because as a parent we do teach, but redefining this how God intends and not how we perceived their relationship to be).
We have learned a lot about ourselves and our personalities that we did not know before, and God has used this to grow our relationship as well as shape the family business dynamic.
What have been some of your greatest challenges as a homeschool, home-business family?
Ensuring our children receive discipleship and education first, and help with the business second. We have had more than one opportunity to say ‘no’ to an opportunity!! Just because an opportunity presents itself doesn’t mean that it is the opportunity God intends us to take. We pray in earnest, and have learned to say no.
They must pass the ‘family litmus test’! If they interfere with our time with God, church, family, or our ‘non-flexible’ schedule (most of the schedule is flexible, but some things are not; this was a new rule we set over the past winter, and it has been a great rule this year!), then they are not worth the sacrifice and we must graciously bow out and say ‘no’ (sometimes simply to ourselves).
God will provide other people, other means, other opportunities. Sometimes, it may even mean a loss of extra income, but it’s about our life and testimonies, not dollars and images.
What have been some of your greatest accomplishments as a homeschool, home-business family?
We have learned the balance between family and business and doing it in a Christ-like manner. We have also been able to teach our children practical applications of their studies, as well as an aspect of learning that can’t be found in textbooks.
There’s the basics, such as ‘mental math’ proficiency when counting change, but also communicating effectively with people, learning about the farming aspects of beekeeping such as planning the harvest, understanding the biology of bees and botany of plants all around us, where to place bee hives, how to make natural products that heal in a market full of the opposite, and many other Christ-like business principles, as shared in the Word.
We as a family are hands-on learners, and this business helps provide a solid foundation and reinforcement of Christ’s lessons in the Word. We’ve learned so much about our Creator, His creations and His purpose for us from day one of this journey.
Which resources have you found most helpful for homeschooling and your business?
Staying in the Word every day! Being equipped with God’s truths in our hearts before we step forth into our day. If we don’t set this as our priority, it shows. It shows in our attitudes, daily ‘ankle biters’, and makes for a very long day!
Trying to keep bees alive is hard enough without giving up hope in what you are doing. Beekeeping is much like farming – you can only do so much. At some point the nectar is either going to flow or not, in order to produce a honey flow. It requires an immense amount of faith in the Lord.
On top of that, we still have to explain to customers why our raw honey is better quality than a big-name brand, because ours cost more than theirs, which is imported from overseas. Over 300 million pounds of honey was imported into the U.S. last year!
A restaurant, for example, can control the cost of goods sold by just buying the product cheaper from a better distributor. That doesn’t happen in farming or agriculture trades, like beekeeping.
We have many obstacles that go unseen by our customers, and keeping our faith strong is crucial! For example, the rains this year have been torrential at times and have taken an immense toll on farmers trying to get their crops in or their hay out, as well as local beekeepers across the entire Midwest area. We prayed for rain, and now we pray for no more rain! Bees don’t like to fly when it’s raining. There are potential discouragements within every aspect of ‘farming’, but staying encouraged with God’s Word is the key!
Any tips for homeschoolers who are interested in starting their own business, but afraid it might not work for them?
The answer to this question is immense and would take hours to answer in an honest and step-by-step method to offer the best advice; however, we can offer these basic tips. And like a homeschooler – we have considered writing a book on it (LOL)!
What is the end state of the business? Is this to pass on to the kids? To provide an income until the business is sold someday? To build up and sell for a profit? Each of these end states (and many more) require a different, but similar approach to how much time and capital a person should put into the business.
Is the person asking an entrepreneur? If someone wants to make ‘quick easy money’ – don’t start your own business. If you want good investment income, buy bonds or annuities, but don’t start a business.
If you start a business, you have to be absolutely passionate about why you believe in it, and you must have the ability to convince others. This is by marketing and explaining what your business offers, and how it is better than what is already on the market. If you are not passionate about it, you may not have the perseverance to push through when things get hard. This is why prayer is essential as the first step.
What is the plan? While you might not need a detailed plan because you are not seeking a bank loan, make a plan anyway. Make it detailed. It will help you see the holes in the plan.
Then, find a ‘negative naysayer’ in your family or friends – we all know one we try to avoid – and have them review the plan. They will, whether they realize it or not, provide a great assistance shooting holes in what you think your ‘perfect plan’ is. Just don’t take their criticism personally, but see it for what it is. Surrounding yourself with the ‘cheerleader’ personalities will not always help you to see things objectively. Remember, pray!
Your plan should focus on some basic things – what service/product are you providing? Who is already providing it and at what price point? Who is already marketing it and how? Why is yours better, and can you prove it in a Christ-like way? How does supply and demand work in the targeted industry?
Who is the customer and how do you plan on reaching them? (Be very detailed about this one.) What is the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) per unit, and how many need to be sold to break even?
Getting into the details requires only time and good old-fashioned research – it doesn’t need to cost money. If you shirk in your planning, and most important, in your praying about this with God, you will pay for this later.
In the Army, we had a thought-process that every decision is a calculated one, not one made by chance and hoping it all works out in the end. Most families who start businesses put a lot of their own money, if not all, into the business and take a huge risk with it. Make sure that:
- It is the Lord’s will (and that you have prayed fervently).
- The business is in line with God’s Word (for us, not predatory in nature).
- The business fits the personalities of the primary workers in the business.
- Yes, you could ‘lose it all’, but you’ll still be OK, you’ll learn from the experience, find another source of income, not get discouraged, because God is always in control.
Thanks so much, Ty and Shelley!