I am the second child of Dave and Joanne Barnes. My father was born of a Baptist minister and his wife, while my mother was born into farm family in Iowa. Dad was educated as an electrical engineer and my mother started college when I was about five. She went on to attain an MBA and become a successful businesswoman. We moved around a bit as I grew up.
I was born in Massachusetts, and then moved to Iowa where my parents were both born and raised. We returned so that my father could complete his undergraduate degree. From there, we moved to Minnesota, which I think of as my home state. When I was seven, we moved to California. It was an amazing time in my development to witness history. I remember “hippies” holding signs reading “Flower Power” and seeing the scenes from the Vietnam War on our television. When I was ten we returned to Minnesota, where I remained until I was 27.
My parents divorced when I was twelve. This rocked our family to its core; it demarked, for me, a transition from my own innocence to one of painful awareness of life’s potential to challenge what we hold as secure. Eventually it taught me how we can recover and grow from painful experiences. Both my parents are still alive and I have good relations with both. My mother and I, in particular, have a relationship that I hold most dear.I grew up loving to be outdoors. I loved camping, canoeing, and gardening with my family. I chose to study biology in college because I loved nature. While I didn’t have words for it then, I now recognize this attraction came from a spiritual connection to nature. As a girl I was very involved in girl scouts, taking training that allowed me to be a counselor and a leader. This eventually led me to my partner though I would never have imagined it to be the case.
I studied at the University of Minnesota, Duluth from 1979 -1983. The summer between my freshman and sophomore years I worked as a program director for a YWCA camp in northern Minnesota. It was there, at a shared supper with the nearby YMCA camp, that I was introduced to a young man, Mark, who nine years later would become my husband. It’s a longer story than I have time here to write, but if I were to point to the most pivotal event of my life it would be meeting and marrying this man. We have now been married (to each other) for 26 years.
After graduation I worked for a genetic engineering company in Minneapolis. I started in the humble position of dishwasher and worked my way up as a research assistant. My work with the scientists was fascinating and cutting edge. After five years, I was inspired to go on to graduate school. This is how I landed in Iowa; I enrolled in the graduate program in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Iowa State University. After moving, my husband and I began looking for a spiritual home and community. We began attending the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. We have been members since 1990.
Halfway through graduate school I began questioning the ethics of my own research. I struggled with my love of the natural world and our manipulation of it. This led me to attend seminars on science and ethics and to an introduction to ecofeminist Rosemary Radford Ruther. Because of this growing ethical conflict, I eventually reconsidered my intention to become genetic engineer. What my newly minted Ph.D. did allow me to do was to teach.
In 1994 when I graduated, we had two children. We bought our little farm near the community college where I took a job as biology professor. Our new home was quite rundown but it was all ours. Our daughters, Claire and Emma, were four and two at the time. We fixed up the house and the gardens. We learned to raise chickens, goats and sheep. Our commitment to the farm was one of connection. We wanted the farm to feed us physically with food and healthy labor, spiritually with a connection to the earth and each other, and finally we a shared abundance through farmers’ markets.
Our philosophy of working with nature included a willingness to tithe 10% to nature. For example if an insect pest or predator was taking our apples or chickens, we vowed not to take action until we had shared 10% with nature. This way we felt we could maintain right relations with the living things that also lived on the farm. We knew that diversity in species meant we had resilience in our little farm ecosystem. Five years after we moved to the farm our son Martin was born.
My work on the farm grew to advocacy for sustainable agriculture in central Iowa. We hosted farm tours, spoke at workshops, and belonged to the movement that here in the heart of industrial agriculture often felt insurmountable. I founded a program for studies in sustainable agriculture at the community college. This is where I found my prophetic voice. Because of this work, I was awarded “Rural Champion of Change” by President Obama for my work in sustainable agriculture. This honor means very much to me.
Our three children grew up on the farm and in our UU Church. Claire is now 23 and a recent graduate from the University of Iceland, having studied environmental and natural resources with a focus on corporate sustainability. Emma is 21 and is a junior studying Biology and Kinesiology at Iowa State University. Martin is 14 and in his sophomore year in high school where he plays trombone in the band and is on the swim team. I am so proud of our children. I feel fortunate and blessed to have been the means through which they came to be in the world.
My personal support system includes friends from my current life in Iowa. These dear friends have walked with me through these last two decades. From seminary I have developed deeply meaningful relationships with my peers in spite of the fact that we live all across the country. We learned how to maintain these long distance friendships. I believe this will serve us well as we move on in our ministries.
Mark and I are ready and excited to go together into the next chapter of our lives. We want to enter the search process exploring together where might settle. We are not bound by the Midwest and we are open to entirely new locations. Fortunately, Mark’s job allows him to work from home, which makes our search process easier. Our farm has raised three wonderful children and needs a new young family. We are ready to let it go.