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Money, resources available to help save old barns

Jen’s Jots: Grants and booklets are available from the Barn Believers organization.

Jennifer Kiel

January 11, 2024

4 Min Read
A barn with a golden sun glow
SAVING OLD BARNS: The Historic Brandt Barn in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is being restored by Dave and Grace Gorringe. The barn was built for farming after the loggers completed their work in the late 1800s.Jan Corey Arnett

There’s something about the allure of an old barn, but sadly, they are becoming fewer and fewer.

To quote Michigan’s barn lady, author and columnist Jan Corey Arnett, “Misconceptions, haste and neglect lead to the demise of our nation’s barns, and once they are gone, they are gone forever. These barns can never truly be replaced.”

A barn lover to the core, Arnett was the original author of the “Barn Spotlight” that appeared in Michigan Farmer, and now in American Agriculturist. In 2017, she formed the nonprofit Barn Believers, which through donations, established a fund to award grants to qualifying nonprofit groups in Michigan undertaking projects that inform and inspire people to save traditional barns — timber-frame, log and stone — dating back to the pre-1940s and their history.

I am a member of the board overseeing the organization and grants.

We wish we had the resources to help everyone who wants to stop damage to a heritage barn and ensure its life for many generations to come, but those kinds of funds are not there. If a millionaire would like to make a major donation, we could certainly get that started. However, doing nothing saves nothing, so under Arnett’s direction, we started this effort with a focus on education.

Grants of up to $5,000 and “Saving Heritage Barns” booklets with tips and cautions, as well as words of wisdom for saving heritage barns, are available from Barn Believers. Grants may only be made to Michigan nonprofit organizations, but the informative booklets are available to everyone for free.

To date, we’ve handed and sent out almost 4,000 booklets. We still have some left, so if you’d like one, email [email protected], or write to Jan Corey Arnett, 2444 W. Halbert Road, Battle Creek MI, 49017.

Jennifer Kiel - A booklet with an image of a barn and silo with the title Saving Heritage Barns

Among the most common problems affecting older barns are the need for a secure roof to stop water damage and expense; foundations that have shifted; trees and vines causing damage to roofs, siding and foundations; and rodent infiltration.

“Vines might seem pretty, but they are deadly to a barn,” Arnett says. “Kill them at the base, and remove them carefully. Tree roots tear into foundations and need to be at minimum 25 feet from a roofline.”

These and other tips can be found in the Saving Heritage Barns booklet.

Grants advance outreach

We’ve awarded six grants, with our first being in 2019 to the Michigan Flywheelers Museum for continued work on the Stephenson Barn. The post-and-beam barn was moved to the museum grounds some years ago, and it is used for multiple purposes — including displays, events and sheltering artifacts.

The Flywheelers host multiple events each year, including Farm History Day, Swap Meet, Kids Lawn Tractor Day and the popular Antique Engine and Tractor Show.

We also awarded the Calhoun County Agricultural & Industrial Society in Marshall to work on a granary built in 1853. In 2020, it was separated into three sections for moving to the grounds of Michigan’s longest running county fair (1848), where it resides beside a historic schoolhouse and across from a fair museum.

What distinguishes this granary from others of its period is that it was mechanized, and all the parts are still there. CCAIS hopes to make it a working granary again. Barn Believers support is being used, in part, for restoration, but largely for public education about the role of this granary on a working farm.

We are looking to fund other projects too, which might include the compilation of informational “tool kits” and hosting of workshops for real estate agents, zoning officials, insurance adjusters and appraisers; sessions on the basics of barn repair for barn owners; presentations on giving new lives to old barns; and supporting the preservation trades and timber-frame professionals in networking for lucrative careers in barn renovation and adaptation, Arnett says.

Additionally, grants may assist in the feasibility work for a community considering a barn’s potential to be used for nonprofit, community purposes. Barns, whether given a new use on a working farm or relocated, can beautifully live on in dozens of new ways, Arnett points out.

Barn Believers has more information and a short, easy-to-complete grant application at its website, barnbelievers.org. You can also provide contact information there to receive a booklet.

Charitable gifts to the Barn Believers Community Project Fund can be designated to “Battle Creek Community Foundation/Barn Believers” at Battle Creek Community Foundation, 32 W. Michigan Ave., Suite 2, Battle Creek, MI 49017, or online at bccfoundation.org.

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About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer

While Jennifer is not a farmer and did not grow up on a farm, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone with more appreciation for the people who grow our food and fiber, live the lifestyles and practice the morals that bind many farm families," she says.

Before taking over as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan and as director of communications with Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her impressive resume.

Jennifer lives in St. Johns with her two daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Emily 16.

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