New Life to the Old Barn: Reviving the Heart of the Farm
By Sarah Joplin
Nothing embodies a farm like a barn. If you ask anyone from school age to old age to conjure a visual of a farm, I’ll bet the vast majority of these mind’s-eye images have a red barn featured prominently. Maybe it has a silo or a cupola; it might be two stories with doors aloft to load hay bales; it may have a lean-to with farm equipment sheltered underneath. There is likely a fenced-in barnyard for livestock. I’m not implying that many farms don’t have barns, in fact our barn was so far in disrepair and unsuitable for our intended purposes that we may as well not have had one at all.
But it turns out that barns are important if not vital to most farm operations. Providing a place to maintain and repair equipment, fabricate parts if necessary, build with wood or metal, store tools, feed and/or house livestock; the barn is not only iconic, it is the hub of farm activity. Ours was dark, damp, spider and critter-infested, increasingly dilapidated and in dire need of repair.
Convention said tear it down and put up a modern metal pole barn. Our neighbor who instead helped with salvaging the original structure aptly deemed the project “straight lines on a crooked barn”. Even my cousin, a contractor said that a refurbishment “couldn’t be done”. But it is (getting) done, it’s just taken years of patience and tenacity in equal parts. It’s been repurposed and renovated a little at a time as the structural bones and spirit of the old barn have been incorporated into a new incarnation of the building. At last, I’m here to report and celebrate our first year with our barn back in use and proclaim that it’s a whole new world!
The biggest benefit is ease of function. We opted to build our chicken coop and run right onto the barn so that we didn’t add more outbuildings to the property. The barn is now flanked with the chicken housing on one side and a lean-to buttressing the other. This spring we are raising Cornish-Cross chickens to provide our own meat and processed the chickens under the lean-to where water and electricity were at hand.
Efficiency and morale have skyrocketed with the function of the barn. Machinery has been overhauled and repaired, workbenches built to house saws, planers, routers, anvils and drill presses. Equipment used instead of buried away God-knows-where. The space is organized and bright whereas countless many hours were previously spent finding the tool much less fixing the problem. Long-envisioned raised beds have been built for the vegetable garden, flower planters have been fabricated. With the strong heartbeat of the farm pumping, we are propelled ahead with gardening, landscaping, investigating niche crop farming and on to the next phase of the repurposed building- the studio loft. Cabinetry and furniture for upstairs will be constructed downstairs.
Machinery, equipment and tools have a place to live sheltered from the elements and free of risk of ruin from nests, hives, burrows and clods being built in them. Birds, wasps and flies don’t assault us anymore which used to be commonplace in the old chicken coop we used as a work shed. There are spaces dedicated to construction materials, metal and wood work, fasteners, even household storage (which was admittedly a big motivation for the renovation) instead of hodgepodge here and there. Inventory can be taken at a glance instead of on a treasure hunt through multiple spaces.
We wonder how we got along for so long without this critical functional space. The truth is, we didn’t. Projects were deferred and progress lagged. We’re finding that a working barn is synonymous with and supports thriving on the farm. We celebrate the productivity and a balance of form and function.
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