There are plenty of old barns still standing. From Georgia to Maine and Michigan to Oregon. In the bread basket of California, immigrants long ago and currently can speak of long days in and out of old barns. An old barn has walls that can talk.
There are beams and posts, some held with straight nails and others fastened and grooved together without any nails what so ever. The thick walls can speak about the generations of mice who have scurried in and out, dodging barn cats for years. There are lofts full of hay, made when the sun shone and stored to feed the animals who have lived in the pastures and out buildings. Often there is the semblance of a silo, which once housed grain and feed for the greater number of animals who provided work, food and occupation for the farmers when it was a homestead. The thick floor boards, with their cracks full of dust waiting to be vacuumed, have held up four legged and two legged visitors and residents for hundreds of years and now are asked to hold heavy refrigerators and fifty pound bags of grain and feed.
On the outside, these many shingles and clap boards are often painted red, as red is the least expensive color, or so I was told by a gentleman farmer. At the base there ought to be a stone foundation, whose job it is to hold up the barn, hold up the history and withstand all the change that swirls around its very existence.
In Vermont, one can see many collapsed barns and crumbled structures, as the big cars rumble by to ski slopes and mountain lodges. But there are still plenty of visible open lands for farming, which certainly look empty and barren in winter. But in taking a closer look, one knows there is evidence of a vibrant farming community. Most every restaurant is trying to feature locally grown, organic food on their menus. Trash areas are dominated by recycling bins and compost opportunities. Solar panels are facing south, so as to collect rays and energy which just might sustain the old farm yet. A few hoop houses, also in the sun, are home to fields of hardy greens, even in the depths of winter, to harvestable kale, spinach and chard. Root crops are also thriving in the slowly warming ground.
Let’s not be fooled by the occasional barn in need of repair, for all barns and out buildings need attention. One ought to visit a working farm to discover the history and see what is needed for the future. At Holly Hill Farm, right here in the bustling South Shore, where homes are built, added onto, lifted higher, razed and raised again and garages multiply and driveways are lengthened and asphalted, the farm stands tall.
The Main Barn was built in 1785. The Tomato Barn (there is a delightful, juicy name for a barn in mid-winter) was built in 1865.
The attached hay barn, stalls, Ox Barn and Ice House, all stand in descending order, each with their rich stories of occupants and current rustic iterations. These barns stand and thrive today as the farmers prepare seeds for growing vegetables, flowers and herbs, and the walls protect supplies and shelter animals. Soon the barn doors will open wider for the customers and school field trip visitors to come learn about organic produce and how to sustainably grow such healthy food.
Take a second look at an old barn, warts and all, and see how it stands, withstands time and still stands for all to see. The current barn cat, Shadow, is writing a thoughtful history, as she sits on the steps, soaking up the sun, while folks come and go.
© 2016, Jon Belber. All rights reserved. Friends of Holly Hill Farm