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Farmstead gets a new lease on life

The farmstead had fallen apart by the time Joe Rude and Wende Elliott arrived in 1999 to begin farming on a small piece of land in Story County, Iowa. The challenge before them was not unlike what the place's original homesteaders faced -- no real roof over their head, no viable shelter for their livestock, and no clear path to economic survival.

The walls of the house were nesting places for birds, snakes, and raccoons. For years, the solution to a leaky roof had been simply to move the furniture. Plaster fell from the walls. The main outbuilding, a 40x50' barn, was sagging, leaking, crumbling, and getting ready to return to the earth. Advice from nearly everyone was "Here's a match," says Rude.

The trick to getting the barn back in shape was finding the right contractors, Rude says. It took six different craftsmen to take on the straightening, shingling, roof replacement, and other structural repairs.

Despite the high costs of the projects, Elliott and Rude figure they were able to save $25,000 on the house, $10,000 on the barn, and $12,000 on the outbuildings by rehabbing rather than buying new.

The couple received a grant from the Iowa Barn Foundation to offset barn rehab costs. They took the state's preservation tax credit, which exempts the building from property taxes. They also received federal and state tax credits for the barn repairs.

Rude's job in Des Moines is the family's main income source. But, the driving force behind the family's restoration work is a belief that success can be found in niche farming.

The couple's farming dream is focused on organic, pasture-raised poultry and other livestock. Chickens were the best startup because they're the cheapest, Rude says. The couple also raises sheep, ducks, geese, turkeys, corn, and hay.

The farmstead had fallen apart by the time Joe Rude and Wende Elliott arrived in 1999 to begin farming on a small piece of land in Story County, Iowa. The challenge before them was not unlike what the place's original homesteaders faced -- no real roof over their head, no viable shelter for their livestock, and no clear path to economic survival.

AFTER: Today, the barn is back
in use. It took six different
craftsmen to take on the
straightening, shingling, roof
replacement, and other
structural repairs.

The foundation of their enterprise is an organic co-op, Wholesome Harvest (www.wholesomeharvest.com), founded by Elliott. From the farm, she directs a 34-member group of livestock producers from Iowa and Wisconsin who market organic, pasture-raised meats to chain grocery stores and gourmet restaurants.

Successful Farming magazine and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are requesting entries for the 2004 program. The awards are given for the best examples of older barns adapted for new farming uses and for preservation of an entire farm or ranch. Nominate your barn by clicking the link below.

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