The difference between city folk and country folk can be extreme. As a town girl turned country, I have examined this through the years. Until a potential customer from Chicago looked at me odd a couple years ago, I called myself a city girl. I was raised primarily in West Lafayette/Lafayette, IN. For this reason, in my mind I was raised a city girl. The perspective of the customer from Chicago was entirely different. Oh so often do we run into life moments when we think we know something, just to realize if we look at it from a different angle a whole different story could be told. This Christmas season, I have been thinking about barns in a similar manner. Since childhood, I have listened to the nativity story as Jesus is depicted as born to a humble beginning through his birth in a barn. While I understand the story through the eyes of city folk, through the eyes of a wantabe farmer, that same barn is likely very different and anything but humble.
On the farm, the barn is the center of life and activity. It is the structure that holds the needed equipment and it seems there is never enough roof space for equipment. It typically houses the workshop which is needed to fix the equipment. Any farm project on a start-up small farm typically first starts with fixing what is actually needed to start the project. Tools are a valuable part of any farming operation. Last but not least; of course, is the shelter provided for animals. During one of my school tours several years ago, I had a group out from a local college. One of the professors was from overseas. He noted that I did not have enough barn space to hold all livestock on property. At that moment I indeed was humbled! Not because I had barn space but because it was insufficient in his eyes. In his country a farmer would never have livestock outside of a barn. As a pasture based farmer, I want livestock out on green grass or at least fresh air. I myself prefer the time in the fresh air with earth under my feet. But there is a time for shelter as we all know on these frigid nights. On my home farm, we typically use the barn space to house sheep during lambing, lambs and ewes in need of special care, and feed during the cold Indiana winters. I now try to have enough cover for all animals on farm. I wonder who learned more on that educational tour, the students listening to me share my typical Salatin modeled discussion on the connection of all things, including our health and food choices. Or was it I, who that day realized the very important place for more barn infrastructure on my own farm.
Driving the countryside, I then noticed that the properties that showed a true farm family were those properties in which the barn was anything but humble. On these properties, the main barn is typically much larger than the house. I believe I can spot a full-time farmer by the comparison in size between their own living quarters and the barn space they have.
“Build it and they will come” became an American saying following the baseball movie “Field of Dreams” but it needs to be adopted by new American Farmers. As I moved into touring more beginning farmers, I took these words to them. This New Year, I hope you can take these words to heart. While the dream of farming can be grand, the reality is anything less than pleasant when we venture into farming without taking the time to prepare. While I am personally in love with my expanded barn space and the cover provided to my livestock, I do stand in awe of our Human Savior born in the barn. Mary is more of a farm woman than I can ever hope to be. It is with this awe that I move into yet a new year of farm and education.
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