Our Vanishing Wisconsin Barns

Jefferson County, Wisconsin barn

Not like I’ve ever mentioned it before, but my work gets me out of the office in so many interesting ways. Like this past weekend when my husband and I roamed the countryside in search of the perfect “weathered, red barn” to illustrate an author’s article (more on in the upcoming Fermentation Fest event guide).

In the meantime, here are some of the glorious barns we founding gracing our area of rural Wisconsin. This, my cover photo, I shot from a farm near Lake Mills.

Jefferson County, Wisconsin barn

First, let’s go back and start with…my barn!

Shot from the hill below, the cornfield is hiding the two eras of our barn’s foundation—the original fieldstone built in the second half of the 19th century and a cinder block addition built in the 1940s. According to a visitor from Old World Wisconsin, the original barn is a Pomeranian German style of architecture.

And yes, those are lightning rod balls. It’s amazing how they’ve survived generations of thunderstorms and young boys’ BB guns.

Old Wisconsin dairy barn

Here is my neighbor’s barn. It’s an example of what was old and new back in the 70s, when farmers added pole barns to their existing barns in order to increase their dairy herds.

As history goes, Wisconsin was “America’s breadbasket” before it was its dairyland. In the 1860s, however, an infestation destroyed the wheat industry and farmers were challenged to take on something new—dairy farming. Taking the barns they previously used for threshing, farmers raised them up and built a foundation underneath to house the cattle. Thus the “barn hill” was born, a landscaped incline had by nearly every historic barn in south central Wisconsin.

Jefferson County, Wisconsin farm

Such a pretty roadside view! Note the gambrel roof of this and my neighbor’s barn, compared to the gabled lines of mine. According to state historian Jerry Apps, the gambled roof became popular because it allowed for more hay storage under the eaves. I’ve always favored the gambrel as a traditional dairy barn, but interestingly, in this area we found more gabled roofs like ours.

Old barn in Farmington, Wisconsin

A few miles down the road from us is the corner community of Farmington and this very unique barn. Imagine the hay that was loaded through these doors back in the day.

Wisconsin dairy barn

Here’s an idyllic dairy scene! Located near Lake Mills, this obviously doesn’t fit my requirements for a weathered photo. From the road, this barn looks like it may have a poured concrete foundation, making it a much newer barn than others in the area.

Small barn in Jefferson County, Wisconsin

I think this one is the cutest, little thing ever. Old, yes. Weathered, no. Back in the day, farms had a multitude of small buildings in addition to the main barn. This barn is located near Milford and may have served as a granary or to house small livestock.

Weathered barn in south central Wisconsin

We wanted weathered? Well, here it is. This barn, now forgotten and without purpose, embodies the vanishing of our heritage as we once knew it. Maintaining old barns is horrendously expensive so they are left to decay. Paying taxes on them seems counterproductive, so they’re often torn down. My husband and I were amazed at how few farmsteads actually still have barns.

Old Wisconsin dairy barn

When one recognizes the brilliance of a barn’s architectural form and the stories it has to tell, even the old and weathered maintains an artistic beauty.

Fachwerk Barn, Watertown, Wisconsin

Okay, folks, here’s my last photo. No, this barn isn’t red. And no, I can’t use it for my project. But it’s a weathered treasure and it’s on our farm. This is a pre-1850 Fachwerk barn, a German style of timber frame, or half-timber, originating from northern Germany. According to those in the know, there are many barns and homes in this area of south central Wisconsin built as Fachwerk, but now covered with siding. My husband uses this barn for his woodworking shop, where in my opinion, he crafts with the same heart men did long ago as they hand-hewed these beams.

So, what can we do to preserve our barns? What new purposes can we find for them so they don’t stand empty? Organizations such as the Wisconsin Barn Preservation Program are working to address these issues. And, of course, watch for Fermentation Fest‘s upcoming event guide. There will be many such interesting articles!

 

Collaborative Efforts in Branding

rusty gate in garden, Adunate Word & Design

I found this rusty ol’ gate and thought it fit perfectly in my flower garden. Aren’t its lines glorious? And look how it matches the tin of our farm shed—I do believe they refer to this as shabby chic!

This past week I’ve been participating in styling of a different nature—branding for Wormfarm Institute and its Fermentation Fest. Believe me, there’s nothing shabby about it. It’s a collaborative effort, with Cricket Design Works serving as the workhorse and Adunate simply following behind in the furrow. It’s great fun because not only do I get to work with a highly professional team of designers (something I often miss as a solo-entreprenuer), I can also observe how another agency runs its project.

Cricket Design Works is doing an outstanding job. The team has designed exquisite logos and supporting lockups (iconic imagery) for both organizations. They’ve obviously done their research because their work captures the heart of Wormfarm Institute and Fermentation Fest.

My part in this is to apply these identifying elements to the promotions I create for Fermentation Fest. It’s super easy because Cricket Design Works put together a style guide detailing everything from colors, to fonts, to layouts. No matter how many different agencies work on Fermentation Fest promotions, there will now be consistency in every visual component.

This, my dears, is what we call branding!

So back to my gate (which coincidently doesn’t really have anything to do with branding, I just want to show it off): In the weeks ahead, while I’m admiring the artistry of flowers weaving their way through its lattice, I’ll also be working on the event guide for the 2015 Fermentation Fest. It’s going to be a great project, thanks to Cricket Design Works.

Stay tuned!

Willa Cultivates Musings of Spring

Spring rototilling with vintage Troy-Bilt

We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it—for a little while. — Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

Lately I’ve been on a Willa Cather kick. I just finished reading O Pioneers! and yesterday as we tilled our garden, this quote came to mind. Oh, I know we hardly compare to the vastness of her Nebraskan plains but as I watched the soil turn under our trusty Troy-Bilt, I contemplated the care we’d given this ground during its season of rest. Or recuperation, as Willa says.

(Willa. Such a pretty name. That’s why I’m into her work…and because she writes about Swedish farmers:-)

Back in November, as I dumped load after load of chicken manure onto the gray, leaden earth (more Willa prose), I remember thinking how even though we don’t garden in winter—literally, that is—we are still working the land. We continue to nurture it and prepare it for another season.

And now, here it’s spring and we’re tilling the garden. Goodness, that came fast!

Jefferson County, Wis., Plat Book 1899

Jefferson County, Wis., Plat Book 1899

Last week we had our neighbor over dinner. He came with a bottle of tasty wine and a Jefferson County Plat Book, dated 1899. Isn’t the typography beautiful? Such ornate craftsmanship even for something so utilitarian as a plat book!

Jefferson County, Wis., Plat Book 1899

We spent several hours scanning its brittle pages. It’s fascinating to note the family names that once owned our neighborhood farms, many of them now listed on gravestones in a cemetery up the road.

We come and go, as Willa says, but the land is always here. I feel very blessed to be the one who loves it now. And I’m sooo excited about the upcoming gardening season!

 

Soil Sisters Celebrates Wisconsin’s Women-Owned Farms

Soil Sisters: July 31-Aug. 2, 2015 in Wisconsin

It’s Foodie Friday and what better way to rouse those tastebuds than to mark your calendar for an upcoming event. A food and farm event! It’s Soil Sisters, a celebration of Wisconsin’s family farms and rural life. Interestingly, these are women-owned farms.

Earlier this year, John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist, owners of Inn Serendipity, asked me to design a series of ads for Soil Sisters. Having toured Soil Sister farms a few years back, I was more than thrilled. And talk about organized…within days of contacting me, John and Lisa emailed an advertising plan complete with project goals, target market and creative brief. I love when clients are so business saaavvvvy!

Here’s our first ad, which will be running in the May, June and July issues of the Willy Street Cooperative Reader. For this piece we used farm and food photography graciously provided by Sarah Anna Hansen. Because the creative brief lists words like “romantic,” “nostalgic” and “Norman Rockwellian” for its tone, I softened the photos gently to compliment the orange, green and purple that Soil Sisters uses in its branding.

So check it out. Come this summer, Soil Sisters is offering three days of food, farms and fun, all set in the rolling hillsides of southern Wisconsin. It’ll be great!

Wednesday Webs: Ag Day 2015

Ewe with baby lamb

I used to raise Corriedale sheep and at this time of year I really get to missing them. I miss being a farmer, albeit a pretend one, and I miss the nurturing coo a mama ewe gurgles over her new lamb.

Now, ten years into self-employment, let’s say I’m a farmer of a different kind—one of design and words. For farmers. This is fun too. Especially because I come across so many interesting people and places.

Here on the web:

Happy Ag Day! Thanks to our farmers!