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Barn makeover

Passersby on a gravel road near Pilot Mound, Iowa, do a double take when they notice the newest feature on the oldest building on Earl and Betty Lingren's farm.

Last year, their granddaughter, Jenifer Badger, painted a double wedding ring barn quilt (see photograph below) to mark the couple's sixtieth wedding anniversary.

The four Lingren children (my husband, Stan, is one of their sons) and their spouses, 10 grandchildren, and four great-grandkids gathered at Thanksgiving. We watched as Stan and his brother, Steve, positioned the quilt block beneath the barn peak.

Quilts have made a comeback, and barns are gaining recognition as rural assets. Barn quilts intertwine two historic threads in our rural fabric.

I married into a family with an appreciation for old quilts and barns, and a belief that barns still can earn their keep on a commercial farm.

In 1992, Stan and his parents saved two barns from the wrecking ball by moving them about 4 miles. Both structures got a coat of paint and have since been used to house cattle, horses, and hogs, and to store hay.

"We wanted a picture of a cow, pig, or horse on the haymow door," Betty says. "But we never got around to it."

Last year, Jenifer's daughter, Kami, 11, helped her 4-H club paint a 4-H quilt block for the Barn Quilts of Greene County project. Betty liked the idea of a double wedding ring barn quilt pattern.

"Because of the circles, I couldn't use a roller or lay it out with masking tape," Jenifer says. "I painted it by hand." (All this while three months pregnant with her fourth child.)

This year, granddaughter Brooke Lingren, 17, created a silk star barn quilt for the Boone County fair. Her purple ribbon project now graces her farm's corncrib facing the road.

That leaves two barns on our farm looking forlorn. We'd love your ideas for a striking but simple pattern.

Barn quilts, launched in Ohio in 2001, already blanket areas of Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Dakota, and North Carolina.

Greene County's driving tour features 23 barn quilts, and sales of its barn quilt note cards sow seeds for a new quilt crop. Sac County, Iowa, barn quilt hosts offer Ag 101 briefs, and tours are tied into a quilt show.

Our quilts aren't tied to these efforts. It's just the Lingren way of celebrating our family farm heritage. "We just put it up for ourselves -- because we have the barn," Betty says.

Betty and Earl have lived on four farms in 61 years of marriage. It's not surprising that none of the barns on the first three farms survived. The Iowa Barn Foundation estimates we lose about 1,000 barns annually.

In Hardin County, 4-Hers using handheld GPS units are helping the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance record barns. For the first time ever, the 2007 USDA ag census will survey barns. Based on this data, new restoration funds may become available.

Like their old barn, Betty and Earl have weathered many seasons and storms. They've built a strong and loving foundation for generations to come. Happy Anniversary!

Passersby on a gravel road near Pilot Mound, Iowa, do a double take when they notice the newest feature on the oldest building on Earl and Betty Lingren's farm.

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