Many of you know that Jason has an intense work ethic and a gift for making seemingly insane projects happen in record time. While my focus has always been on caring for the animals and building our farm business, he has been at work literally building the infrastructure of the farm from our house to our garden beds, pole shed to livestock chute, and water lines to the pastures, while also maintaining and fixing machinery.
As if he wasn’t busy enough, Jason found a beautiful old barn on Craigslist four hours away from our farm, outside the little town of Amboy not far from Trimont where I grew up. It seemed like a crazy idea but it was in amazing condition, and all the stars aligned for it to be ours... as long as he pitched all the hay out and took it down piece by piece and figured out how to move it to our farm. When he stepped inside he said it felt like church and he knew he couldn’t say no, despite not being sure how he’d do it.
The barn is a mortice and tenon timber frame held together with wooden pegs. Barns like these are being bulldozed at record pace these days as fewer and fewer small farms keep livestock and can justify the cost of maintaining them. The wood alone is worth preserving, but to pull off keeping this barn in its original state feels like an honoring of the many hands that made it and the mouths it fed.
Friends and family offered places for Jason to stay while he worked on it, and he spent three weeks last summer taking it apart. Many amazing experiences throughout the deconstruction left him feeling sure he’d made the right decision.
A friend offered to help and after four days they succeeded in getting all the siding off and hay pitched out. When that work was done, his friend hopped in his car, and as Jason took out his wallet to pay him, he shouted “it takes a community to build a barn!” and sped away.
One day a car of strangers pulled up out of the blue. A granddaughter of the original owner of the farm happened to be visiting from California and shared that the barn was built in the 1880s and moved to the current site from a farm down the road where it was set on a new brick foundation in 1945. She was touched that Jason was going to such lengths to keep it and said she was excited to let her extended family know about its preservation.
He also met an 83-year-old neighbor who has taken down and reassembled over 40 barns, grainaries, sheds, and chicken coops. After sizing Jason up, he mentioned he had the heavy equipment for the bigger tasks of taking down the roof and framing, and offered for him and his 77-year-old best friend to help. Jason said he’d never met harder workers and had to tell them to slow down because he couldn’t keep up!
When Jason’s truck broke down in Amboy and needed repairs, he ended up stopping into the Amboy Cottage Cafe to kill time. Even though they were about to close, owner Lisa Lindberg brought him out coffee and a sandwich on the house and let him stay. Turns out she’s no stranger to historic preservation, having moved the gas station that became the cafe as well as leading the campaign to save a 118-year-old truss bridge set to be destroyed, and the two bonded over crazy projects. She also raises sheep with her mother and owns a yarn store in town so how could we not love her!
Jason had to leave the 1940s foundation behind, but hauled all the lumber, meticulously labeled, over several trips all the way up to Finlayson. It currently rests in our pole shed, awaiting an uncertain future.
THE VISION FOR RECONSTRUCTION
Most of the materials made it intact to our farm in Finlayson, but a few beams are no longer structurally sound, and the barn will need a graded pad and new foundation. There is a beautiful old sandstone barn foundation at an empty farm less than one mile from our place, and we are currently attempting to make contact with the owners to see if moving and preserving it is possible as well. This is the minimal amount of work needing to be done, in addition to the cost of hardware supplies and labor for friends we will insist on paying this time. Reconstructing the barn as is will give us a place to store hay and create a workshop for Jason’s future projects (what more will he do?!).
When we allow ourselves to dream big though, we can really see an expanded vision for the barn. We consider it our mission to educate about the benefits of regenerative agriculture and continue growing the farm as a place of community and connection—to the land, the animals, and each other. Our passions and interests cross music and art, social justice and advocacy, food and health, and spiritual connection and renewal. We envision the barn as a center for regenerative agriculture education and a community space for farm-to-table dinners, barn dances and concerts, non-profit fundraisers, wellness workshops, yoga classes, meditation retreats, and public art events. We would love to also build out a farm store for on-farm sales of meat and other local products, and while we don’t exactly want to be a wedding farm, we could even see hosting one or two of those for special someones.
What would this take? We’re not even sure quite yet, but we know it would involve permitting, insulation, electricity, windows, septic and plumbing for a bathroom, and a heat source. We happened to cross paths with a Twin Cities architect and her timber framing builder husband who have a cabin nearby, and made plans to meet and talk about the realities of our vision. We are working on budgets and time tables and researching grants while pondering our worthiness for such an endeavor.
And thus it’s with great humbleness we dip our toes into the sea of project crowdfunding… If you are so inclined to support this vision with money, time, or expertise, we would be ever so grateful. As plans come together, we will likely launch an official Kickstarter campaign in the fall. In the meantime, your early support will boost our confidence and let us know if we’re heading in the right direction.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for caring about the history and culture of agriculture.