Louis Bromfield's Barn

Malabar Farm's nerve center is a site to behold.

| March/April 2008

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    Though modern in many respects, Malabar’s new barn was raised the old-fashioned way.
    courtesy Ohio Department of Natural Resources
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    The rebuilt barn was made using traditional framing techniques.
    courtesy Ohio Department of Natural Resources
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    The original barn before the 1993 fire was home to cattle and a 1969 Buick Skylark hardtop, in Rallye Red with black vinyl top.
    courtesy Ohio Department of Natural Resources

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Photos courtesy Ohio Department of Natural resources

Louis Bromfield was a man of many talents. A farmer, author, philosopher, political scientist and economist, he was a creative thinker of unbounded vigor, energy, curiosity and restlessness. He had the foresight to combine three adjoining worn-out Ohio farms, totaling about a thousand acres, into an enterprise he named Malabar (after the coast in India that was the setting of two of his novels).

Legend has it that the moment Bromfield’s gaze fell on Pleasant Valley near Mansfield he knew he was home to stay. There, at Malabar Farm, he pioneered and promoted a “new agriculture.” In its most basic sense, “new agriculture” involved application of the natural order of birth, growth, reproduction, death, decay and rebirth to the restoration and the maintenance of land. Bromfield played an active and knowledgeable role in the day-to-day operations of his farm as well as in the wide range of agricultural and nutritional experiments conducted there. His efforts came to the attention of agronomists and agriculturists all over the world, many of whom came to see first hand what was going on at Malabar Farm.

The “command center” at Malabar was the barn. Built in the 1890s of timbers salvaged from an old mill, the impressive structure was at the heart of agricultural undertakings that were more vast and varied than those normally carried out on a working farm. It was a busy place indeed. Bromfield said his barn was a scene of noise and activity through which passed the life of the farm. He liked everything about his barn, including the barn swallows that built dozens of nests up high in the rafters every spring and were partially responsible for the absence of mosquitoes at the farm.

Bromfield’s barn was a big one. By design, it had loose floor boards and siding, which admitted plenty of air and sunshine to the animals and crops housed there. It also had some features not found in many barns of its time; for example, the storage configuration could be adjusted with moveable racks as the volume of stored hay fluctuated throughout the year. The barn also boasted more trap doors and lofts than one normally finds. An open “breezeway” through the barn’s center allowed the wind to clear chaff and dust created by winnowing grain. In an attempt to stay in touch with the nature around him, Bromfield had a scene painted on the side of his barn because it partially obscured the view.

Bromfield often said a barn was the expression of everything good in farming and something in which an owner should take pride. Barns had character, soul, beauty and individuality, he maintained. The ideal barn in Bromfield’s view had a “great, cavernous mow filled with clover hay, two stories or three in height with cattle and horses below bedded in winter in clean straw, halfway to their fat bellies.”

Malabar’s barn represented a measure of security and stability. Bromfield retreated to it often; it was indeed his world apart. When he pushed wide the doors, he was at once enveloped by the smell of cattle, horses, hay and silage. There, forces that assailed him everywhere else were left behind.

Jennifer Nemec
8/20/2008 9:47:39 AM

Hi Bob, Thanks for the help! I made the correction to the article. Anything else you can share about Malabar or the area? Thanks again! Jenn

8/18/2008 10:03:35 AM

I live not too far away from Malabar Farm, and I'd like to point out an error in the article's text. Malabar Farm is located near Mansfield, Ohio, not Manchester, Ohio. Manchester, Ohio is located in the southern part of the state, along the Ohio River, whereas Mansfield is in north-central Ohio.

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