Saturday I attended the annual meeting of the Friends of Minnesota Barns. I found the group back in the 1990s and recognized kindred souls. Most of these men and women have a barn in their lives that they've helped to save from destruction or demise. The only way I could save the Marty barn was in a story, but they understand my story.
It was in Michigan that I discovered the barn preservation movement. There's even a National Barn Alliance. That made me wonder what Minnesota had going, and sure enough, I found the Friends. Yesterday, we watched a slide show of a house-raising from barn timbers given by the restoration contractor. A lot of old barns are finding new purposes, from houses to churches to event centers.
It's true that the small farms of the future usually don't have a classic barn, though some do. Barns like the one on the Marty farm were a product of forests when wood was the only material available. They are difficult and expensive to maintain. They are hard to fill with hay, and hard to clean. Old barns take a lot of resources that today's small farmers need to use for other things.
It's also true that a thing of beauty to me could be considered a blot on the horizon to people who knew this place before plows tore the earth open.
Neverthless, these barns made of mighty trees have served us well, architectural workhorses and wonders. Inside the Marty barn, I felt the holiness of the earth—forests, animals, and shelter under the sky.
The Oliver H. Kelley Farm was a worthy place for the group to meet. One of the staff members had come to feed the animals and do the chores. He told me a barn story from western Minnesota. I haven't been to the Kelley Farm for many years, but it's time to go back. This summer, I'll take my granddaughter.
Photos of the Marty barn, 2005. Top: hayloft, east end. Bottom: exterior, north side. Kodacolor by Gayla Marty.