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Pretty and practical

Agriculture.com Staff 03/24/2008 @ 11:00pm

History is hard to miss on the Pennsylvania farm of Barron "Boots" Hetherington and his wife, Robin. Since 1842, eight generations of their family have lived on what is now called B&R Farms, all occupying the same wood frame farmhouse. In the adjacent timber-framed barn, the names of draft horses and mules that once pulled plows can be found on the wooden beams. When they are working in the fields, the Hetheringtons frequently run across old horseshoes and harness buckles.

Boots and Robin manage a diverse farming operation that includes 440 acres of corn, soybeans, and alfalfa, as well as a mix of produce (strawberries, cucumbers, peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes, and eggplant).

"We ship 15,000 packages of farm-raised produce every year," says Robin. Most of the vegetables are sold to local wholesalers. The Hetheringtons also sell directly to consumers from a farm stand and offer a u-pick option during strawberry season.

At the center of the Hetheringtons' operation is their gable-roofed 1875 barn. Partially below grade and surrounded by thick fieldstone walls, the air inside the lower floor of the barn stays at a constant 60°, even during the warmest days of summer. This makes it a perfect place for vegetable grading and packing.

The upper floor is used to store farming equipment, along with spring seed and about 5,000 bales of straw, which is used mostly in the strawberry patch.

"The barn is a vital part of our farming enterprise," Robin says.

A few years ago, the Hetheringtons decided that it was finally time to invest in their old barn. Little maintenance had been done for the past two generations, and the structure was beginning to show its age. The siding was deteriorated, paint was peeling or nonexistent, the main floor was badly worn, and some of the timbers were rotted. To Boots and Robin, spending a little time and money on a building that was part of their farming operation was simple common sense.

"We felt that the buildings deserve as much maintenance and care as the machinery," Robin says.

The Hetheringtons didn't take any short cuts in rehabbing the barn.

"We felt that if it was worth doing, it was worth doing right," Boots says.

They were especially careful about choosing quality materials. Working with cousins who own a nearby sawmill, they were able to match replacement timbers with the species and color of the originals. The barn floor was replaced with new oak boards, and the siding was repaired with matching hemlock. Several white oak posts and beams were also repaired or replaced with matching species. The family was able to do much of the work on the barn themselves, turning to a general contractor mainly for the high ladder work.

After a freak wind storm tore off several sections of metal roofing, the Hetheringtons hired a local barn rescue squad to completely replace the roof. An area shop teacher helped fashion a new aluminum ventilator to match the design of three original cupolas that had been lost over the years. To put the final touch on the rehabilitation, Robin designed four hex signs, each featuring a strawberry plant, which were mounted on the most visible sides of the freshly painted red barn.

From start to finish, the entire project took three years to complete and cost approximately $25,000.

The Hetherington family's outstanding stewardship and restoration work on their historic barn have earned them this year's BARN AGAIN!® Farm Heritage Award. Since 1987, Successful Farming magazine and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have presented BARN AGAIN! awards to farming and ranching families who have preserved their historic agricultural buildings and who use them in their daily operations.

In addition to the Farm Heritage Award, four families will receive Recognition Awards for their stewardship of older barns. Once again this year, cash awards for the winners are being provided by Toy Farmer Publications.

History is hard to miss on the Pennsylvania farm of Barron "Boots" Hetherington and his wife, Robin. Since 1842, eight generations of their family have lived on what is now called B&R Farms, all occupying the same wood frame farmhouse. In the adjacent timber-framed barn, the names of draft horses and mules that once pulled plows can be found on the wooden beams. When they are working in the fields, the Hetheringtons frequently run across old horseshoes and harness buckles.

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