A barn raising, also historically called a raising bee, describes a collective action of neighbors coming together to literally raise a barn. This practice of years past was a community event that was not to be missed. Men worked, women supported and fed, and children played.
Although a traditional barn raising is nearly a lost art today, with the exception of in Amish and Mennonite communities, there’s still much to be learned from the practice. And even if you don’t have a barn to raise, there are still many farm projects that can bring people together in a similar way.
A Modern Barn Raising
One of my favorite “barn raisings” happened just last fall. The weather was absolutely perfect. I was very pregnant with three other small children, but it was an excellent apple year and I was not about to let the sun-sweetened fruit go to waste, so we headed over to our friends’ farm who had a cider press.
Apples the kids helped collect on previous days were loaded into the truck and taken to a friend’s farm. The kids ran and explored the new space, while the men unloaded apples. I set up a washing station, and my friend found knives, aprons and other needed supplies. Down the assembly line, we worked at our assigned tasks as we traded stories of frosts that came too early, strategies to keep worms out of cherries, and our favorite canning techniques for apple pie filling.
After a bit of work, a golden liquid started to slosh into a newly cleaned bucket: cider! The kids and the wasps sensed the wonder of it all and came flying in for tastes. We snacked on apples and cider until the sun went down. We all split the 50 gallons of cider we pressed that night. Every time we get out a gallon to enjoy we think of that evening. The cider always tastes just a little bit sweeter than before.
Why Throw a Barn Raising?
Organizing a farm-centered event like the barn raisings of yore or our family’s recent cider-making party can seem intimidating as you work your way through the season’s to-do list, but it can pay off in big, sometimes unforeseen, ways. Traditional barn raisings and quilting bees were times for men and women to come together and not only enjoy one another’s company and to give service, but also to learn from each other.
From a practical standpoint, projects that would either go uncompleted or take many long hours alone can easily be accomplished with teamwork. There are other benefits, too, including:
- borrowing tools (or a cider press) rather than purchasing
- learning new skills from experienced workers
- have a set time and schedule for those “someday” tasks
The sense of community also runs deep. After your project is finished, you’ll find yourself more than happy to work on a project for someone else. You may also find a growing sense of security in having a trusted relationship with neighbors.
From a social standpoint, adults can use the time to discuss problems regarding their animals or crops, get advice from others on how to treat illness, exchange recipes and practical tips, or share opinions on social and community happenings. Children can play while listening to and watching adults interact. In a time when digital media didn’t make communication easy, traditional barn raisings allowed people to get help and insight on issues at hand while helping others at the same time. These face-to-face experiencesare often missing in today’s society. Barn raising projects provide great networking opportunities that strengthen the community as a whole.
Having a hard time envisioning a “barn-raising” of your own? The ways neighbors can come together to help one another out are endless:
- convert an old shed into a chicken coop
- can and pickle your piles of tomatoes and cucumbers
- make cider
- bale hay
- repair fences or outbuildings
- butcher chickens
- render maple syrup
- get help harvesting, planting and weeding
- collect honey or seeds
- go foraging
- cut and collect firewood
- construct a new compost bin or farmer’s market booth
- winterize the barn
Tips for Success
Once you have your project in mind, here are tips to make the day successful and fun for all involved.
1. Make It a Party
Think of the best parties you’ve attended. I bet that they have three things in common:
- an invitation with a set time and date
- an activity (your project of choice)
You don’t have to send a formal invitation, but a phone call or email with a specific time, date, what to bring and what to expect will go a long way.
2. Plan Food
Working hard brings people together and makes them hungry. Plan your menu depending on the size of the project. For lighter work, like foraging or canning, simple finger foods and appetizers may be all you need, but if the job is longer and more labor-intensive, such as building fences or baling hay, plan on serving a meal.
A dish that can be made the night before and warmed up in the oven or slow cooker the day of the project will make barn-raising day easier on you. Keep a cooler full of water available, and have easy snacks accessible.
If a large group is coming, turn the meal into potluck, which lightens the load for everyone. Think outside of the traditional potluck, too. Have a taco night and ask everyone to brings a certain ingredient (lettuce, cheese, tortillas), or give the potluck a theme like “favorite soups, stews and chilies.”
If your gathering is a simple evening project, just plan on serving dessert. Everyone likes ice cream and pie, and if sweets aren’t your thing, warm bread and jam are sure to please.
3. Share Resources
Collaborate beforehand to see what resources and supplies everyone can contribute. This will help you to know what things you need to have out and ready before everyone shows up. Does your neighbor down the road have a nice chipper, and do you have plenty of newly trimmed branches to get out of the way? By working together, you have equipment access in exchange for new mulch for his chicken coop and walkways.
4. Pay Attention to Details
Make a detailed list before party day, especially for large projects that have lots of components. This list should include needed supplies (items you already own, items that will be brought by other, items that need to be purchased), a breakdown of individual tasks and their time requirements, what each person will be responsible for, and limitations for certain jobs. Make a plan for first-aid and rain-outs. Do your homework. Preplanning and having a good idea of what to expect will make for a more effective workday when everyone gets there.
Hosting your own barn raising event can be a piece of cake with a little planning. You might just find that that cider you made with friends tastes much better than expected, or the fire pit you dug with help is something you enjoy heartily. Projects with friends have a much sweeter result in the end, and the memories and friendships aren’t too bad either.
Get more event-planning tips from HobbyFarms.com:
- Printable Farmstead Party Themes
- 8 Budget-Friendly Tips for a Farm Birthday
- Farm Event Planning Guide
- Host a Food Swap
- 4 Ways to Connect with Neighbors During the Harvest