The Disappearing Barns of the Midwest

Barn Leelanau County, copyright Ellen Wilson

I’ve given myself a photo assignment – documumenting the disappearing barns of the Midwest.

At the turn of the century, barns could be found all over the place because there were a lot more small farms.  In 1900 close to 40% of the American labor force was made up of farmers.  Today, it is less than 2%.

Now we have huge agribusinesses that boast of more cost effective and environmentally friendly farms.  Farmers can carefully control profits by making sure animals have the right food to maximize their growth.  And no longer do cattle wade in local streams contaminating the water supply.

But while there are positive attributes to large scale farming technology there are many negative attributes as well.

First and foremost is the fact that the growth and distribution of food is a political and economic force most Americans do not understand.  Animal growth is carefully regulated by the use of hormones.  Antibiotics are also routinely given to combat disease and infection.  Do we want this stuff in our food?

The cost of food is increasing due to increased shipping costs because of the unstable situation in the Middle East.

And we were never told about genetically modified food stuffs that appeared on our supermarket shelves as other countries were.  We, as consumers, were not given a choice.

I think of these things as I travel around the country and see the landscape dotted with falling down barns, or barns that are lovingly attended to as keepsakes.  Like the barns in this post.

Barn, copyright Ellen Wilson

These are all things we have to grapple with now and in the future.

What else will disappear in our lifetime?

What is disappearing in your area?

Photocredit: © Ellen Wilson

Views: 62

32 thoughts on “The Disappearing Barns of the Midwest”

  1. Hi Ellen – don’t even get me started on agribusiness – it has caused so much harm to the economy of the whole world.

    I love the pic you’ve used. I like how they have pictures on the side – v patriotic.

    Many farms have also disappeared in our area – also small corner shops have too and old fashioned pubs.

    Where I live – there’s lots of small villages. But I expect those to disappear in the future as the cities expand and swallow them up.

    Cath Lawson’s last blog post..Social Media Sites Of The Future

  2. @Vered – We have a garden here. My husband does the veggies and I do the flowers. If I could afford all organic (meat included) I would buy nothing but. Currently I only buy organic or free ranging hen eggs. I don’t want to eat eggs that stressed out hens laid.

    @Marelisa – I’d like to tie it in the disappearing barn theme with agriculture. At least some kind of long magazine piece. Maybe a few interviews with old farmers. Hmmm. Starting to think now…

    @Cath – Yeah, trying to impose a Western model on many thirld world countries just didn’t work. It really messed up their whole method of production, of farming. And the trouble was, they couldn’t get any monies from the International Monetary Fund or World Bank if they (thirld world) countries didn’t do what they were told.

    I love the pubs in Britain. Don’t even get me started on that! Ha! I haven’t been able to explore the little villages yet.

    I was reading an article in Granta about the disappearing farmers of England. I forgot exactly where the area, village, was…somewhere in Kent, I think. But the families had been farming there for centuries – I’m talking the 1600’s.

  3. Ellen, what a wonderful idea for a photo project and magazine piece! When I first moved here I covered several states and did a lot of driving. I saw lots of barns driving through Ohio (in that long stretch on the way to Columbus) and it was as though someone had stopped the clock and frozen time. The gas stations were not automated, they still had “main streets” and little general stores. It was like a living history lesson. We need more people to speak out on agriculture. I am not pleased with GM foods and resent sneaky tactics to insert them in my food supply without my knowledge. We only have to look at today’s children for evidence of how the food supply has impacted their bodies. Well, before this becomes a platform, great post and great self-assignment!

  4. Ugh, factory farms. Don’t get me started. The chemicals they inject into the animals and pass along for human consumption is one thing. What infuriates me even more is the way animals are treated in these facilities. Free range baby! Or veg! This is just one more reason I can’t wait to vote in November. (I’ll stop now before I get all animal-activist politico). Great post!

    Melissa Donovan’s last blog post..September News & Announcements

  5. I love this project. It reminds me so much of my childhood, growing up in rural Wisconsin. Small family farms were abundant. Today, many have gone away. And, it’s sad to see. The place I live now used to be known as the dairy capital of Wisconsin. Now it is urban sprawl, with very few farms. I do see the same thing disappearing. Is this all in the name of progress? I don’t think so. In fact, what is interesting is that in the rural area I grew up in, now has people moving in from larger cities throughout the midwest, looking for what used to be. So, in a small way, it is coming back. But with a different look than when I was a child.

    Lance’s last blog post..Sunday Thought For The Day

  6. @Writer Dad – Ha! Yeah, the disappearing manners! Do you suppose this is directly related to the hormones in our milk?

    We need more libraries. Or else more books in the libraries we have. Good thing there is such a thing as interlibrary loans.

    @Karen – There are still a few small towns like that around, not many. I agree about children and what they eat. I think a lot of behavioral problems can be linked to our food. I think there is a link between ADD and ADHD and over processed and sweet additives in foods.

    @Melissa – Wow! You are all fired up! I don’t like the way animals are treated in these mega farms either. Free range animals are less stressed. I know I am when I can get outside!

    @Lance – Hey, a fellow cheesehead! I was born in Milwaukee, WI. My grandma grew up on a little farm in Northern WI.

    Progress is a term we use to indicate that economic “growth” is happening. It is a matter of definition, and an artificial term invented by economists. Things cannot grow indefinitely.

    Many people move to the suburbs (country) and try to recreate something that is going or gone for sentimental purposes.

    @Amy – There are some really nice old barns in Northern Michigan. I took this picture in Leelanau County by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

  7. I love old barns. I also take photos of them, and I’ve painted some.

    When Ontario was settled, they had to cut homesteads right out of the bush. It was so sparsely settled, there weren’t any sawmills around. The first barns were made of square-cut timbers, notched together in the corners like Lincoln Logs.

    What’s pretty cool is you can still see some of these original barns standing. (But they’re getting fewer and farther between).

    Friar’s last blog post..Gone Fishin’

  8. Yes, I get all fired up over animals and politics. What can I say? I have my buttons just like anyone else. Factory farms are one of those things that push my buttons, and then just lean there, keeping the button pressed. Meanwhile, I’m sounding off! When things settle down workwise, I’m going to try to do some writing for animal charities and this is one of my topics. The other one is No Kill (movement to end killing in shelters). Hope that’s not Too Much Information 😉

    Melissa Donovan’s last blog post..September News & Announcements

  9. Mom & Pop stores are being replaced by big box stores. We are losing the character and personal touch of the smaller stores, traffic flow changes dramatically, the landscape changes, and downtown becomes a withered shadow of its former self, while the ‘burbs become glutonous giants.

    Urban Panther’s last blog post..I am a twit

  10. @Kara – Good to see you again. I mean hear from you again. I have a fondness for barns, yes. Especially old barns with character.

    @Friar – I’ll have to come up there and drive around looking for these lincoln log barns. Most of the Midwest was deforested at the beginning of the century due to the logging industry shipping timber to places like Chicago. Homesteaders could get land dirt cheap.

    @Melissa – Yes, unfortunately factory farms all over the place now. I don’t really know what the solution is besides informing people. Some people will care and some people won’t. I’m glad you’re writing for charities you care about. I think they will be happy to get such a fine writer that can make people take notice and cry.

    You know, if only people would get their animals neutered…we’d have a lot less animals in shelters. I think it’s a basic responsibility as a pet owner.

  11. @Urban – Love the way you put that. So true. The nasty Walmart syndrome. And things seem to become so rush rush with the strip malls and crazy highways.

    Glutonous giants. Very good.

  12. Ellen,

    As per my email – that’s a great picture, and your words are timely. We’ve had the Maple Leaf meats problem up this way lately. I buy my meat from a local butcher, and he knows the history of the animals. I wonder if it is enough. And the problems with even the vegetables, coming from who knows where.

    There are people working to reverse this thing – it starts slowly, but that’s how all good things start. I stumbled across this:

    Check it out, right now in the UK, Oz, NZ, Chile, Japan – but it can spread if people want it. I want it.

    Brett Legree’s last blog fridays – raiding party.

  13. Ellen,
    Love the barn!
    What a great project. I agree that it would make a really nice book. There are- or at least there used to be when I was growing up some really nice barns in Indiana and here in Illinois where I am. One town away from where I am, they tore down an old barn and built up a busy intersection but left up the old silo. It just seems to hang there suspended in the air, pronouncing an ancient world half forgotten in the midst of the daily traffic jam. So strange.

    I live in a little town with a main street and a Dairy Queen and a Dog-N-Suds. We have a Farmer’s Market every week and I buy my produce from there as much as I can. I also have a garden. As much as possible we try to be local and fresh. We try to eat less food that comes out of a box, or out of a can but we can only do as much as we can do…hopefully each step gets us closer.

    Wendi Kelly’s last blog post..MOVING DAY!

  14. @Brett – Thanks for the link. I appreciate you sharing this information with everyone.

    It starts slowly. I really like the sound of that. I have been moving too quickly through my life.

    @Wendi – “It just seems to hang there suspended in the air, pronouncing an ancient world half forgotten in the midst of the daily traffic jam. So strange.” Wow. That is REALLY good. Can I quote you? People are so poetic with this post. I really like it.

    That thought had me riffing on all kinds of things – like exclamation points, for instance. Wendi, I have to say, the mark of a truly good writer is one who does this for other people.

    Keep with it is all I can say.

    Now that I think of it, I betcha Harry was working on your site when you popped over here. I’ll check it out. Thanks.

  15. Ellen,
    that’s very nice of you, thanks. Sure quote me on anything you want.
    And no worries that I would stop writing, Steam would fill me up and I would blow up. I have to write. Good or not doesn’t matter, it has to come out.

    Harry hasn’t been working on my site for weeks, I think my old address just keeps defaulting in certian sites. I don’t know why, saved in my computer that way or something. It seems fixed in your now…I hope. 🙂

    Wendi Kelly’s last blog post..Changing Colors

  16. Hi Wendi,

    Just had another thought, unhappy, this one. I need to upgrade to the latest version of WordPress, ’cause I have been getting error messages with my hosting service and other little piddley problems. This is probably why I didn’t jibe with your site either. I think you can notice it with older versions of WP.

    Melissa Donovan just updated her site with a new Revolution theme. She said her previous rev theme was acting wacky with the newest version of WP.

    Oh man, I am NOT looking forward to this. I just need to bite the bullet while the leg is chopped off. UGH!

  17. Hey Cath,

    That’s crap about the foot and mouth thing. I didn’t keep up with all of that. I’m sure the government had a lot to do with it. In the US farmers get a lot of perks. Well, a lot of it is like farmer welfare, really. Though I’m sure that is changing due to the politics and economics of the industry.

    What pisses me off is the fact that we grow enough food in this country to feed pretty much everyone in the world. So why don’t we? Oh, I know people like to spit out things like “politics, politics” in Africa. Ridiculous.

    I get so irritated with this. Along with healthcare. These two things EVERYONE is entitled to.

    I miss Britain! I was just thinking today of how much money I need to get over there again.

  18. @Ellen,

    I’m glad that you liked the link. I hope that others will also have a look. I really do think that our sustainable future is in that direction. Even if the price of gasoline plummets – we should not forget our roots. This kind of thing brings us together – if nothing else, we should be depending on ourselves and our neighbours for our food supply, rather than our business partners overseas.

    Brett Legree’s last blog fridays – raiding party.

  19. @Brett

    You make a good point about getting back to our roots.

    It’s not just about growing carrots and peas. It also involves raising animals, dealing with afterbirth, manure and poo.
    Butchering animals. Grabbing a rifle and going to shoot a deer to get enough venison for the winter.

    Might sound disgusting, but that’s the farming way of life.

    I wonder if our suburban-shrink-wrapped-process-lunch-meat-SUV-soccer-Mom society could stomach going back to living like that? 😉

    Friar’s last blog post..Lessons in Pike Psychology

  20. @Brett – Very good point. We should not depend on the price of gas to dictate what happens with our food supply and distribution. I wish more people thought like you. Maybe they do and they don’t have a computer!

    @Barbara – I hope your grandparent’s barn doesn’t disappear. I hope someone takes care of it.

    @Friar – I think people get used to society with the way it is and they would have a hard time with it. But if we were suddenly plunged into using rifles to hunt meat again…well, I guess we would have to get over it. At least get over the part about skinning and processing the meat, because I think people would probably distribute the duties throughout the society – good hunters would hunt, and good processors would process.

  21. @Ellen,

    I think a reasonable number of folks do think this way, it only takes a certain critical mass to tip the scales. And of course, we’d have to get off of our computers and get out there (I’m the worst culprit, so I shouldn’t talk!)

    But it is starting. I visited Waiheke Island in NZ last year, and they are one of the Transition Towns. They’ve started planting thousands of fruit and nut trees on the island for communal use. Very cool. I’d like to be a part of that someday, and I believe that I will be.

    @Friar & Ellen,

    Very true – it would be an adjustment. It would probably be easier for most folks to fish rather than hunt or raise animals, at least from a stomach turning point (fish aren’t cute and furry, unlike cows and stuff).

    Of course, if “the big crunch” came, I hope people would largely ignore the most plentiful supply of meat… (each other! Hey, don’t laugh, people are pretty slow and easy to catch…)

    Brett Legree’s last blog fridays – raiding party.

  22. Brett,

    I wonder if people would start eating eachother? Interesting, if not disgusting, thing to think about. I have a hard time with that Alive movie. First, I am a freaked out flyer. Second, we have the cannabalism going on. Ugh! I am morbidly fascinated by it all.

    This critical mass thing to tip the scales is interesting. I will have to read more about it.

    Yeah, I remember you telling me something about communal agriculture in New Zealand. That does sound very cool.

    Yeah, that’s one reason writing about these issues is important. But sometimes I think it’s all preaching to the choir, you know?

  23. I LOVE BARNS! I am glad you are doing this.

    I think growth hormones in our animal foods are why people are much taller (and fatter) this generation than the last generation. Is it a problem? Debatable. With increasing health problems come new solutions. Big business in food and medicine; they sleep together. People still live much longer on the average.

Comments are closed.