Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Lancaster Barn Again

It is not every day that the words “Lancaster, Pennsylvania” enter the pages of The Economist. But on April 24, they did. “Heritage Protection: Barn Again” notes that Lancaster County has by far the largest concentration of barns in the whole country (p. 28). In fact, I pass through this very barned landscape as I read the magazine.

Saving America’s farming icon in the rest of the U.S. has been a losing battle. The iconic barn was a functional solution to old farming processes, where livestock occupied the ground floor, and grain (or hay) was stored in the upper floors. In 20th-century farming, grain farmers got rid of animals for mechanical combines and planters, while the livestock farmers preferred a long production line type of building. The 2007 U.S. census was the first to count barns, and we will not know the total loss until the next count in 2012. The data from Iowa alone is dramatic with 1,000 barns lost every year. “Barn Again” is a program that National Trust for Historic Preservation began after the 1980s farm crisis. The program gives advice and provides incentives. Some states (Washington, Vermont, Iowa) give grants or tax credits but, ultimately, the main challenge for barn preservation is finding alternative uses. The revival of organic farming has, to a small extent, made old barns relevant again.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States