Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Barn as Farm Machine

The buildings at Broadturn Farm have been a consistent focus over the years. The farmstead space is graced with a collection of connected buildings and stand alone outbuildings. It has a quintessential New England working farm aesthetic. Each building has been one thing, an then another. Renovated and re-renovated, torn down and re-built, these structures have evolved as the various enterprises of the farm saw periods of success and growth. Dating back to the early 1800s, the buildings tell us a story of who came before us and the legacy of hard work that is required to make a living off the land.

Over our time here, we have become part of that story. The renovations we have participated in have focused on creating usable spaces for our own business. Today, I want to tell you the story of the Long Barn, the largest building here and the one the farm's little non-profit is named for.

When we arrived on the scene back in 2006, every surface of the barn was deep with ancient, loose hay. There was a long wall that divided the space. The wall had been part of the barn when cows had been actively milked. There were stanchions and an alley for the cows to move in and out, a door on either end to shuffle the livestock through the barn. There were pipes with gauges, a milk room with the remnants of milk processing and storage. There was an indoor corn silo for storing winter feed for cows.

Over the course of the first year, we rolled out truckload after truckload of old hay, using it to mulch crop fields. We found skeletons of old cats who climbed in to piles of hay after their useful life had finished.

 And when we reached what should have been the floor, we found the organic matter got chunkier and then we hit sand. The floor had rotted under all that hay. The sills of the building were giving way. This massive farm machine.....hay in, cows in, cows fed, cows milked, cows out, milk out... was giving way to years of quiet waiting. The barn had been waiting to do something useful again. So, we did what any tenant would do, we called our landlord and said the floor is gone.

Luckily, in all of these endeavors, we have a willing partner. The Scarborough Land Trust who owns the property and had protected a portion of it with an agricultural easement, works with us to prioritize and renovate the farm buildings. We split the cost of the structural and facade repairs of building. Broadturn Farm, Inc bears the responsibility of covering the cost of renovations above and beyond the basics. For example, in the farm-stand barn, we covered the cost of the walk-in cooler, the electricity and the exit signs but we split with the Land Trust the costs of the roof replacement, and of straightening the building, which was leaning ever further. We invest in our end of things as is needed to grow our business. With a 30 year lease, we feel confident certain investments make sense when we see the potential for financial gain realized in a well run barn-as-farm-machine. back to the story of the long barn. In 2008, we finally geared up to replace the sills and floor system of the long barn. Over the course of the winter, we ripped out the indoor wall and the old stanchions, we removed the indoor corn silo, the milk piping and we took out all the rotting floorboards. Some of the wood became a cupboard in our kitchen and the pipes were used to build a clothes line in the back yard. Like pragmatic New Englanders, we kept what we might use somewhere else and we ditched what was beyond salvage. (well, John, who is more "New England" than me, tried to keep that stuff too.)

We hired a crew of talented timber framers and voila, the space inside was transformed.

We had thought we would be hosting weddings in this here lovely new barn space. But naive we are. Much to our dismay, the town informed us we were not "upta code" as an event facility. After a few years of consideration, the hiring of a consultant, a trip to the state fire marshal and a few of my tears shed in front of the dudes from the town office, we abandoned the plan as it would have required a financial investment far larger than the potential return. But this barn has become a center of life at the farm. It houses tractors, implements and supplies for the fields. Pallets of potting mix and lime stay dry in there. Fish meal fertilizer adds a distinctive aroma. Our CSA customers come see us in the barn every week to pick up their produce and cut flower shares. We love this building. It is what provides the commanding silhouette of the farmstead when the farm first comes in to view on the road.

One detail I forgot to mention is the prevalence of white vinyl siding on all the buildings when we arrived in 2006. Every building...and I mean every one, was covered with a layer of vinyl siding.

As the buildings are renovated and leveled, the vinyl gets warped and bowed. There are waves on the side of buildings where the siding is buckled. In a strong wind, a large swath of vinyl will come flying across the dooryard, only to land with a smash and a shattering. This yields a million tiny little pieces of white plastic all over the place. A little girl can earn a lot of nickels collecting bits of plastic at our farm. Slowly, we have been furthering the removal of the vinyl. Every time you take off a layer, as was the case with the hay and the floor, another wound is unearthed, as was the reality this past summer.

We decided it was time to reside the south wall of the barn. Our trusty timber framers were hired again and the work commenced. The most glaring discovery was the need to replace the upright post in the front corner of the barn.

Later in the night after the post was replaced, Maine experienced an earthquake whose epicenter was about 5 miles away. At first, I thought they'd screwed up the post and the long barn was falling down post by post, beam by beam. And then our trusty, live-in Facebook junky (Emma) informed us it was an earthquake. Thanks Facebook.

And now, from the right angle, if you don't see the roof, or the north wall with its buckled vinyl siding, or the gable end where we ran out of money, the barn is renewed. The long barn will keep on being our farm machine.

Our next big project....the roof. With such a huge structure, and the high costs of materials, its no wonder that beautiful buildings like this one have disappeared from our landscape. But we are, along with the Scarborough Land Trust, committed to preserving this farm as a working space, and as a landmark of our agrarian past. We will find a way to raise the money to finance this on-going project. For the land trust's part, donations are gratefully accepted. For our part... sign up for the CSA!

Blessings on the meal-


  1. Thanks for sharing this transformation! I love to see old barns restored to their glory!

  2. It was a nice post at all and nice to see the restoration of the sheds. I will suggest you to visit my farm shed at:

  3. A great piece of work done by you. Thanks for sharing it with us. You effort was being presented by the pictures.
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  4. These barns are usually used in the farms. And have proved very useful in the past era.
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  5. One thing I can say, this is a huge barn. There are lots of work needed to be done, starting from removing all the siding and other damaged parts, to the actual restoration. Good thing that you found a willing partner to help you in restoring this barn.

    Joanne @

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