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Serving: MI

Family ‘in the pink’ over their busy, beloved barn

Barn Spotlight: Changes to the Dunneback barn have followed the needs of the farm market business.

The white barn turned farm market at 3025 6 Mile Road NW, Grand Rapids, Mich., holds many stories, in addition to a wide array of produce and gifts. And that’s not to mention the curiosity generated by the eye-grabbing pink truck and tractor nearby.

The answer to the question, “Why pink?” is easily answered by seeing the name on the barn — Ed Dunneback & Girls. Women are a central part of the business, as they increasingly are in agriculture across the country. 

In the early days of barn building, a barn sometimes carried in conversation, if not in text on a sidewall or roof, the name of the person for whom it was built. It was “the Smith barn,” or it might be “the Jones barn.”  

The first barn on this property, a timber-frame structure, was built in the 1890s. A house followed in 1910. Records show that this farm was, at one time, part of the S.M. Pearsall farm, a portion of which was later sold to Maurice E. Harvey.

Then, both properties were purchased by Edwin Dunneback, who had the gambrel-roofed barn bearing the family name built in 1938. So, while the white barn’s name has never been in question, the 1890s barn’s story has been lost to time.

Stephanie Dunneback Ginsberg, great-granddaughter of Edwin Dunneback, says the original purchase included 160 acres, and today the farm comprises 173 acres. Her great-grandfather started farming there in 1922, and his white-dimensional lumber barn is based on blueprints designed and marketed by Michigan State University.

Orchards, hay and straw, animals

The two barns were central to an operation that included apples and peaches, hay and straw, and horses and cattle. Everyone in the area knows the newer Dunneback barn, which measures 30 feet by 70 feet and today has a 14-by-70-foot addition.

“My grandfather, Edward Dunneback, took over the farm in the 1940s,” Stephanie explains. “He continued to grow apples and peaches and added strawberries. He also continued to have dairy cattle.” Edward and his brother, Joseph. milked cows in the older barn until 1984 when the herd was sold.

Long before cattle were no longer milked in the old barn, the newer barn’s use included more than the handling and storage of fruit. A hint of its future was unfolding.

Dances, weddings, gatherings

“Nearly every Saturday night, there was a band and dancing,” Stephanie says. “There were wedding receptions and barn dances, and many people came to enjoy the music, to square dance and maybe have a beer or two.”

The barn bears witness to her words, with many signatures left on the walls by those who came for a night out. In fact, people have come back to the barn time and again over the years, making it a point to look for their name on the woodwork.

“We also used to host the Fruit Ridge Smorgasbord, a large gathering or picnic for all the farmers on the Ridge,” she adds. The farm is in an area of heightened elevation with ideal proximity to a Lake Michigan-influenced climate, making it well suited for fruit growing. Most of Michigan’s apples come from this region.

One notable moment was at a smorgasbord, when Gerald R. Ford spoke on the front lawn, Stephanie recalls. 

The Dunneback farm also was well known for the hayrides given around the farm to guests, and it was after one of these hayrides where Edward Dunneback and his future wife, Helen, met.

“Ma Loveless and the Boys was a band from Ada,” Stephanie says with a laugh. “They were hired to perform in the barn one Saturday night, and Ma Loveless brought along her daughter, Helen.  Edward asked Helen to dance and the rest is history!”

Tragedy

The couple had three children, Pamela, Michael and Suanne. Barn dances and parties continued until the late 1960s. 

Michael, the only son, was drafted to Vietnam and instead of taking a farm deferment, decided to do his part for his country. Tragically, his part included giving his life. Michael was killed in action in 1969 just before his 21st birthday. 

Women in leadership

The Dunneback daughters’ decision after their brother’s death is proof that more and more women have stepped into leadership roles whether by choice or necessity or both. Pam Dunneback climbed a ladder and repainted the front of the barn to read “Ed Dunneback & Girls.”

“Since then, the barn has changed even more,” says Stephanie, who is Suanne’s daughter and with her sister, Sarah, is part of the team. Suanne has run the farm with her husband, Steve, for the past 40 years.  They raise apples, asparagus, cherries, strawberries, hops, heirloom tomatoes, pumpkins, corn and soybeans. 

Additional growth

Twelve years ago, a 14-by 40-foot addition was made to the barn to hold a commercial kitchen. Outside is an open seating area where people can enjoy treats of doughnuts, cookies, turnovers and pie. The barn offers a gift shop with local jams, jellies, salsas, gifts and local produce. The Dunnebacks serve lunch, and new in autumn 2019 is a tasting bar with their own beer, wine and hard cider. 

“We have about 25,000 visitors during our May-to-November season,” Stephanie says. While the future of the 1890s barn in the farm operation remains uncertain, she adds, “I think my great-grandfather would be pleased.”

Arnett writes from Battle Creek, Mich.  She is the author of “American Barns” and the co-founder of the Barn Believers Community Project Fund held at the Battle Creek Community Foundation. Contact her at coralan@comcast.net.

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