Old ways, new barn: Structure raised quickly in Conway

The Recorder. March 10, 2014. By David Rainville 

CONWAY — The building of a local farm’s new barn brings new meaning to community-supported agriculture.

With a construction crew consisting of friends, neighbors, past and present farmhands, customers and a couple seasoned pros, scores of hands helped lighten the work as Natural Roots Farm raised its new barn with people power Saturday.

What started as a foundation and a floor that morning began to look like a barn by 11 a.m.

Once each heavy truss had been pushed and pulled into place with poles and ropes, workers climbed the frame and busily tied them in with purlins, as others below held the truss in place with ropes.

While most were volunteers, three of them have been doing it for years, and it showed.

Jake Miller’s large felt hat kept the bright midday sun out of his eyes as he effortlessly scaled a truss to its peak 32 feet from the ground. Above his long gray beard, he wore a smile just about as broad as the brim of his big black hat.

His partner, Raymond Hastetler, was easy to spot as well, his beard less gray but his hat just as black and his smile just as wide.

Looking at them, one wouldn’t guess they’d been up since the wee hours Saturday, leaving home in Marathon, N.Y., at 2:30 a.m. to arrive at Natural Roots Farm in time to have breakfast before raising the first timbers of the farm’s new barn.

Though Miller has had a hand in several barn raisings — 50 or so, he said — he usually does so without the convenience of the power saws and drills at his disposal Saturday.

Where he’s usually working, they wouldn’t do him much good — there’s no electricity. He and Hastetler hail from an Amish community in Marathon.

Miller said he found Natural Roots refreshing. The farm uses five draft horses rather than a team of tractors for their hauling, haying and plowing needs, among other low-impact practices, like cutting and milling all the lumber for the project on-site themselves.

The Amish builders came to Conway with Donn Hewes, who lives near their community and is a good friend of Natural Roots’ owners, David Fisher and his wife Anna Maclay.

“When Jake and the community moved near me, I saw them build 15 barns in three years,” said Hewes. Impressed by their work, he decided to learn more about old-fashioned barn-raising, and Miller and others were glad to teach.

Though Hewes had plenty of time to practice, those who showed up Saturday got a crash course. Though many of them are familiar with carpentry, most had never raised a barn by hand before.

When the Amish do it, they’re a well-oiled machine.

“With a barn like this, we’d probably have the roof on by noon,” he said. “We usually have 60 to 100 people working on it, and they’ve all done it before.”

By sunset Saturday, the building was framed and ready for a roof and siding.

Miller learned the trade as a child, working with his grandfather.

It was a family affair Saturday, as is tradition for an Amish barn raising. Spectators helped out, whether moving lumber or tugging the truss-ropes to lift the framing into place. Children milled about, playing in the snow and sawdust, watching the new barn go up before their eyes. The greenhouse turned into a buffet as those more skilled in the kitchen than construction kept everyone well-fed, and the conversation flowed as easily as the coffee and cider.

The cellar of the barn will house their draft horses, as well as some pigs that help with the compost. Currently, they have to keep their hay in huge piles, covered in tarps, and it makes for a lot of work, and some lost hay.

“When we keep it in haystacks, we have to move it so many times, by hand, and we always lose some to spoilage because it gets wet,” said Maclay. The new barn will have a horse-powered machine to pluck the hay right from the wagon and dump it inside.

Maclay said that will free them up to focus on their produce, since haying and harvest seasons coincide.

Fisher’s father, John Fisher, came out from Pleasantville, N.Y., to watch the barn go up.

He said his son took an interest in the environment at a young age, and started a recycling program at his school when he was 11. After graduation, he went to the National Outdoor Leadership School and took several internships on farms from Washington to Maine and back to New York, where he quickly gravitated toward draft horses.

He pays his farming education forward by offering internships at Natural Roots. He met Macay when she came to intern at Natural Roots, and they quickly hit it off.

Some of the other interns have gone on to start their own farms, and a few use horse power.

Fisher and Maclay’s children may end up taking over Natural Roots someday. Their daughter Leora, 10, is already learning and loving to drive horses, and Gabriel, 6, loves to play on the farm.