It’s how her parents heated the house. Binder-Mullins knocks on one of the closets, marveling at the original wood.
“It was always cold in here,” she says.
Outside, there are Christmas trees for sale and a gift shop with Santa Claus ornaments and T-shirts. This is Station Road Farm and Landscaping, which her family has operated since 1968. Binder-Mullins’ grandfather started the farming business, and he used to own about 70 acres here as well.
After her he died, Binder-Mullins and her family sold the farmland. They never wanted to, but at the time Ohio officials still collected estate taxes after deaths. Because of this, she says, they owed money they never really had.
When her dad died in the fall of 2019, and the pandemic hit next spring, they talked about selling again. Her mom wondered if it was all becoming too much. In the office that will always feel like a kitchen, Binder-Mullins recounts this conversation.
She starts to cry.
‘I don’t know what’s going to happen’
Binder-Mullins tries to stop the tears. She apologizes and wipes her eyes.
This property, and the three farms she owns in Butler County, are not about business. They’re about family. They’re about hard work. They’re about passing something down to her kids. They’re about identity.
In some ways, she says, they’re about freedom.
That’s why there is a large sign at the corner of Tylersville and Lesourdsville West Chester roads. It looks spray-painted, with a black arrow pointing up.
“116% INCREASE. THANKS!”
The sign isn’t accurate anymore. At a recent town hall meeting, Binder-Mullins was given an informational sheet that said farmland owners in Butler County face an average 118% increase in taxes.
It could be more depending on what soil they have.
Mark Mullins, who runs M&M Land Design with his wife and his brother, put up the sign. He did so after a property tax meeting, because he didn’t know what else to do. He doesn’t have time to call congressmen and senators.
He and his wife work seven days a week.
In Ohio, property taxes are changing drastically because of state-mandated reassessments. These assessments rely on home prices that were skewed by the pandemic. Lawmakers are trying to pass legislation to curb some of the rate hikes – an average of 37% in Butler County — but it appears nothing will be completed until next year.
Binder-Mullins says she doesn’t think people understand the impact this could have on farmers. She knows one farmer in his 80s who owns about 1,000 acres. Her husband says people are afraid to speak out.
Landowners can contest appraisals with the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals. But the bottom line is there is uncertainty now, in an industry where there is already so much.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Mark says.
Conversations about selling: ‘We’re tired.’
Binder-Mullins is thinking about all this in the same room where she used to eat cereal every morning.
She remembers it vividly. Her grandparents lived next door, and she saw them every day. Early in the morning, her grandfather would feed the cows. He’d come inside with what felt like the coldest hands in the world. Then he put them on her neck, and she would shriek.
She misses those hands.
That’s part of why this farm is more than a farm. It’s a connection to those who are no longer with us, she said.
Binder-Mullins was 12 when her dad lost his job. He was 36, and she says he had a heart attack because of stress. That’s when her parents started running the farm full-time. After high school, Binder-Mullins went to Cincinnati State to study horticulture, landscape and design.
She did this because her parents needed someone like that for the farm.
“We’re tired,” Binder-Mullins says, knocking on the door to her mother’s house.
Station Road Farm is not open yet. The gates are closed, and it’s snowing outside. Binder-Mullins is sitting in the dark when her husband walks into the office. Eventually, her mom opens the curtains and turns on the lights. Then, their 21-year-old daughter enters. Binder-Mullins says she is studying horticulture in college.
After they leave, Binder-Mullins cries again. At some point, she mentions another sign next to the one protesting tax increases on Tylersville Road. This one is much smaller.
It says: “For Sale.”