I do sometimes have barn-envy; I wish our property still had one (the old buildings were burned down years ago; apparently were falling down). Such is the fate of barns all over the country; people just don’t use them anymore. Big old red barns were never as common up here as down south, and got abandoned more often and earlier (due to poor farming conditions, heh).
It saddens me that in areas with great farmland and resources (like Iowa), “traditional” chemical, monoculture agriculture still reigns. And don’t get WF started about the energy implications of that! Then, in areas like Northern MN or New England (hardscrabble but beautiful land) more liberal, progressive ideas about organics and CSA’s seem to be taking hold and clinging tenaciously to the rock. I know there’s hope and beginnings of changes down in those areas, too: it’s just harder to find them while lost in the seas of corn and soybeans- eek!
Recently WF obliged me in my desire to visit an old barn (WAY down south) that played a role in my family’s history, even though none of us ever lived on this farmstead. I appreciated the opportunity to see it up close again, to explore its deteriorating corners. We can stand back and observe the decay with detachment, but in reality, my family and the forces of tradition agriculture were responsible.
My grandfather (on my dad’s side) was a very “modern” farmer in the 1960’s, buying farms to use for their cropland with few plans for subsistence-type living. I don’t fault him for that in any way; it’s a completely common practice, one encouraged by the market forces. It just means that the buildings on this farm were hardly used for 40 years, and now will not likely survive much longer. A new “modern” farmer has purchased the land, and I’m not sure of his plans.
I wasn’t a farm kid, but wanted to honor this barn as part of my “farm” heritage. I remember playing in the hayloft, exploring the empty stalls, carefully avoiding falling onto a pitchfork. In another now-gone barn like this one, I stepped on a rusty nail and bravely climbed a silo (all the way to the top!) I entertained notions of being a farmer even as a kid- it just appealed to me on some level, but I was never really around a “real” working farm.
Now I’m a “responsible” adult, all practical and modern in my full-time, in-town job choice. While WF and I are trying to squeeze in chicken-raising and gardening and someday larger scale farming into the too-small spaces of our “free” time, I need to remember this barn and the role “modernity” has played in getting us to the current state of the world, with poison spinach and debt-ridden farmers who can’t afford (or have reason) to keep up their great old barns. Maybe we can make some less practical, but more “real” choices one of these days.
I’m off to go read Wendell Berry aloud in the car while driving through Iowa! Peace!
(note: post should have pictures: blogger won't let me right now- later?)