A Tribute to Robert Barnes
Robert tweaked the steering wheel just a bit, pushing it back-and-forth with his hand as the mower trudged forward, staying true in its trek along the straight row of thriving coffee trees. It was a glorious Hawaiian morning with the sun warming his cheeks and the throaty purr of the mower competing against, but somehow in harmony with, the worship music that filled his hearing through earbuds. He sang softly to himself, always in tune with the melody as music was among the many loves in his life. It is good to know how greatly you are loved and how much there is to love, he thought. Alone on the tractor he could easily move his mind from thought to thought, memory to memory. It has been sixteen years since he and his wife Dawn first took in the glorious vistas and crisp ocean air of the rugged farm that reached steeply up the side of an ancient volcano. The then unknown farm contained just 3,600 coffee trees. How did it happen, what amount of sweat and dedication did it take, for it to grow to 26,000 trees and global recognition?
At fifteen years old Robert was forced to become, “the head of the family” and help provide for his mother and five siblings. Soon thereafter he became a roofer, a carpenter and surprisingly, a Bible translator sent to Papua New Guinea. In that island nation he discovered how easily he could fit in despite being transported to a foreign culture, and how he could become a blessing to others. He and Dawn, through multiple business endeavors and intriguing circumstances, got to know the Wattles family in Washington State and together they arranged to buy a fledgling farm discovered on a hillside in Kona, Hawaii.
Growth can be a source of pride, but more than that, Robert found himself creating some of the finest organic coffee in the world. Hard work was not foreign to Robert. He knew he had a responsibility in the routine of life. For him it was an enjoyable and immediate friendship with the land, the sea and the air, despite how unpredictable and fickle friendships with such could prove to be. He found satisfaction in the knowledge that it was deeply ingrained in his character to befriend people and care for those places, those people, that others would consider strangers and locations some considered alien. No, he was different, some would say remarkable, in his ability to connect with folks. He was a man of the people, and likewise he was a caretaker of the land.
Robert realized he was privileged beyond measure and blessed outside of reason to have his home and vocation in Hawaii. He would do his best to honor his great fortune of living in an earthly paradise and working his newfound labor of joy by pursuing the treasures of the farm and sharing its many lessons with any who would listen. Employees, guests, colleagues, and innumerable friends would learn from his eager and thoughtful words describing his passion, the farm. Although never a farmer in the past, Robert absorbed and mastered the many intricacies and the science of cultivating superior coffee trees.
To Robert being master of this coffee farm was an artform, not just his chosen labor. He could tell you, and would happily do so, the exact temperature needed for roasting beans, how long each batch of “greens” needed to lay on the drying floor. He could even tell you how to best prepare and drink your daily brew. He knew what fungus to be wary of and when fertilizer should be applied to the trees. As with any farmer, the weather was his constant companion, or sometimes a threatening foe. The coffee he produced must be natural and he understood organic begins with taking great care of the earth. The coffee he produced was to be separated from the norm and grown unique in its purity. No chemicals needed, just nature at its finest. What ultimate control he had was to simply cooperate with what nature had deemed best. If it were possible, Robert would have given a name to each of the thousands of trees on the farm, such was his understanding of their needs and concern for their wellbeing. He worked to harness the power of the sun to transform and store its energy, to run lights, tools, tractors and more. He took great joy in conducting farm tours for curious visitors and coffee connoisseurs. He touted the farm and its bounty, not to inflate his ego, but to promote healthy farm practices and acknowledge the resulting harvest of outstanding coffee beans. He dreamed of the time the farm could be completely independent of manufactured energy and even anticipated the day it would never produce anything but good – no excess carbon, never any harm to the vulnerable environment.
The ultimate measure of a man comes from those who know him best, those who sweat in the fields with him, share his home, hear his complaints, and listen to his words. Those who eagerly came under his leadership as employee or who gladly called him “partner” knew of his many qualities and ignored any faults. Beyond the farm was his love and devotion to his wife, his daughter Loretta, sons Curtis and Barney and grandchildren. He was a spiritual man made complete with the knowledge of his Creator and His active hand in his life. Robert’s time, his day-to-day effort was spent working and learning about the land, its people, and of his God. These taught him slowly and well. He understood lessons such as these should never be forgotten but be applied to his life, and then passed on.
He brought more than farm life into his world. He enjoyed the nearby beaches, golf, and many special times and outings with friends and family. The magnificent sunsets filling his ocean view from the elevation of his house were almost a daily ritual of awe, and within those scenes he found peace. Life was a gift, the farm, his family, friends and neighbors were all gifts for him to cherish.
Robert was taken from us too soon and quite quickly. To say his job was unfinished here would be unfair. He finished each day as completely as the ground he oversaw and the sky he worked under would allow. Quite simply, he was all about the farm and a true passion is never fully satisfied.
Many of us have learned the life lesson that grief never gets lighter – you just get used to carrying the weight. While we adjust to the extra burden of losing Robert, we will carry on. No worries Robert, your legacy, your family and the farm, will continue to produce and ship exquisite coffee around the globe and all the while we will care for the earth as you taught us to do.
Eventually nature will reclaim the place known, for now, as Kona Rainforest Farm, but our hope, our purpose, is for mother earth to smile at the stewardship we provided to her temporary gift of tenure. We acknowledge and hold dear the memory of an everyday man who through it all was extraordinarily faithful. Faithful to his God, faithful to his family, and we are all the beneficiaries of his faithfulness to the land.
For those that loved him dearly and to you patron and friend of the farm, maybe with your next cup of “joe” you can give a nod, a tip of the cup, and say, “thanks Robert for an extraordinary example of a life well done and for this most excellent cup of coffee”.
Some Notes of Remembrance and Encouragement
Luis let me know that Robert passed away. I just wanted to share my extreme sorrow for your loss. Robert and you have done so much to positively change the face of Kona farming over the years. The entire community owes a debt of gratitude to the both of you for your openness and willingness to support research and your push to highlight Kona coffee on the largest stages.
I know there’s no words that can convey the terribleness of the situation. I wish you solace and comfort during this time and hope that the love of your family and friends can carry you through this time.
With deepest sympathy,
With sad and heavy hearts we say farewell to our farmer, friend and mentor Robert Barnes.
Last week we were informed that our good friend Robert Barnes @konarainforestcoffee had passed away. Robert was one of the most passionate coffee people we have had the privilege of meeting. His love of sustainability, technology and quality have set Rainforest Farms at a level it is hard to fathom. Not only has Robert helped guide Rainforest Farms to be one of the best producing organic farms consistently in the top 10 HCA for multiple years running but also done fully off the grid using only solar power. His vision for scalable sustainable coffee farming has led a path for others to follow.
We will miss you Robert but know that with the leadership of Dawn, Lit and the team at Rainforest Farms your vision for outstanding quality, sustainable and organic farming will continue.
After Roberts passing we were told he had kept back a super special lot of coffee just for us and with the support of his leadership team we will be roasting it in his honor. Just like Robert it is sweet, complex and outstanding. We are excited to share this award winning coffee with you all.
Cheers Robert for all the fun times and exceptional coffee. 🌱🍒🔥☕
I thank God for Barney (Robert)! A huge role model to me on how to response to God’s leading! “just do it” You two have always been an inspiration to me all the way back to our Multnomah days! I long for heaven even more now that my buddy Barney is there!
Dearest Barnes family ..my heart goes out to you now in this difficult time of loss …this is Mary (Plumb) from Portland, Oregon…I’m remembering when we were neighbors back in ‘79- ‘81 and the Multnomah School of the Bible days….when our kids were little and our dreams were big…Robert was always a larger-than-life character full of such energy and almost reckless daring… funny and fun-loving, certainly not your typical “reverent” sedate Bible school student… he was like I imagine the Apostle Peter to be- bold, brash, out-front in his enthusiasm and love for the God Who dramatically saved him and redirected his life.. a man of action and BIG plans… impatient with the tedium of merely studying about living the Christian life, he wanted to be DOING it!!!!!..so off you all went to New Guinea to start working as support missionaries with Wycliffe, while many of us stood in startled amazement (if not a little wistfully) at such a reckless love of God and daring faith in action. A characteristic that would mark Robert’s life through all his years!
I can only imagine his reception into heaven now as he bursts in on the scene there- the joyful “welcome home” and “well done”…..it would seem, again, he has run on ahead… (Isaiah 57:1-2 has been a particular comfort to me at the departure of a one loved who I felt left too soon)…”…devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” Dearest Dawn, Loretta, Curt, Barney. and entire Barnes family… may God Himself be your comfort, peace and sustainer now…filling your hearts with hope and a joy unexplainable and indescribable .. that this is but a season of separation. That will indeed be short and you will not be left comfortless- until then feel the love of God to be a healing balm, and through all His people around the world, envelope you and uphold you, warm and sustain and strengthen you…standing with you now in love and prayer, Mary
Oh my God Dawn,
I am so sorry. It breaks my heart.
Our prayers go out to you and your whole family.
Thankfully he made it home to pass in a place that meant so much to him.
I can’t even imagine what you must be going through. You were each others soulmates.
If there is anything we can do please let us know.
You are in our prayers, and Robert will live in all of our hearts.
Every time I drink your coffee I will think of him…which will be every day.