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The Old Ison Mule Barn

by Darlene Ison-Evans

What do you see when you look at the “Ole Mule Barn” in the pictures? I know, it’s just an old barn….  

When I look at it, I see a dream, I see a young farmer with a vision, I see hope for a bright future.

As he considered where to locate the new business venture – the Old Mule Barn caught his eye. Right there on the Ison Farm.  I can picture him walking through the barn, around the barn and back through it again. Yes, yes…this will work… And so, it did.

When our dad was young, he had a dream of growing and selling muscadine vines. Many things were grown on the Ison farm in Spalding County in those days. Corn, cotton, row crops but it was the muscadine vines that captured his heart. At the time it was a little-known fruit – and there had not been many efforts to propagate and market the vines. In fact, at that time – there were only a few varieties available.

As dad pondered starting his business, Ison’s Nursery, he made many decisions.

He started Ison’s Nursery as a mail-order nursery.

    (This sets up future generations for success.)

He had a telephone line installed.

    (We still have the same phone number as he did all those years ago.)

Gas heaters came next and soon he had a business license and a tax ID number.

Dad had studied growing muscadines and he talked to other farmers, and through trial and error he was successfully growing muscadine vines to sell.

The next step was to put an ad in the Market Bulletin. A simple ad, but it was effective. Soon the phone started to ring.

Our precious grandmother, Addie Mae Ison, believed in her son and worked in the old barn wrapping plants to ship. You will notice in the pictures – her work area was an old door for a table – placed on top of 2 barrels (and it worked).

Our grandfather, Grady Ison also supported his son’s dream and worked pruning and sorting vines.

Our mother, Leola Young Ison, was dad’s biggest fan and she believed that together they could do anything. She worked hard by his side to grow this business. And they did.

What started out as a modest 3-acre muscadine vineyard planted in 1934 has evolved into Ison’s Nursery & Vineyard being the largest and oldest grower of muscadine vines and a nursery offering over 200 varieties of fruit, nut, and berry plants.

In the late 1960’s, our dad Bill Ison and Dr. B.O. Fry began breeding muscadines in order to improve size, taste and production. From the fruits of their labor, we now have 22 patented varieties of muscadine! These varieties are considered the best for commercial vineyards, u-pick operations, and the backyard hobbyist.

Our parents Bill and Leola Ison dedicated their lives to building the market we have today for this amazing fruit.

June through May is what we consider the calendar year for our farm. It is the same as it has always been. We grow in the spring and summer and take our goods to market in the fall and winter.

So, we are now in our 90th year. Did I just say that? Our 90th year?

Yes, 90 years.

Somehow, I feel warmth and love in my heart as I walk down memory lane. I feel our parents and grandparents’ approval and support. Our Aunts and cousins’ approval and pride in us. At one time or another almost all of our family has worked at Ison’s. And it’s a good thing. Our roots are deep.

My grandmother was precious to me – no, no she was precious to “ALL” of us!!  When I think of her, I still miss her so much. Her hands were strong – her love was sure, and her faith was steadfast.

As a mother and grandmother now myself – She is my greatest role model.

Thank you for supporting our family farm. We are the 3rd generation farming the same land. Greg, Janet, Pam and I have been its caretakers since the mid 90’s. True family farms are becoming more and more rare, and we could not do it without you.

Stay tuned for more during our 90th Anniversary year.

Darlene Ison-Evans

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