Whenever I’m traveling rural interstates or country roads, old barns catch my eye more readily than an injury lawyer’s billboards.
I spent a lot of hours inside one of those well-worn wooden buildings on my family’s tobacco farm in Anderson County, shelling corn, hanging tobacco and playing in the hayloft with my little sister Jill.
Barns are the original American small business. They are monuments to hard work, determination, entrepreneurs and family.
On a recent long weekend trip to Michigan’s blueberry country with my sister Jill and cousin Jennifer, we stopped at a roadside produce shed filled with a bounty of fruits and vegetables. Since 1954, Sommerfeldt’s Farm near Benton Harbor has been growing and selling hand-picked tomatoes, peppers, blueberries, peaches and the like.
And for most of those years, the Sommerfeldt sisters, Sandi and Rhonda have done their part to bring in the harvest. Robert Sommerfeldt, the founding father of the farm, passed away in 2018 at 91, but his daughters keep growing and selling their bounty.
When we brought our baskets of goodies to the cash register, we noticed a different kind of tip jar on the counter. A hand-lettered sign asked patrons to help save the Sommerfeldt family’s deteriorating barn.
Behind the crisp, modern produce shed stood a faded grey barn with the initials of the produce patriarch tacked near the top. Inside were crates of apples, stacks of produce boxes and a family of barn swallows.
The 1880s barn has clearly seen better days. It needs a new roof and some rafter repairs, but it’s going to take a lot of tomatoes and blueberries to pay for the work.
As we checked out, we tossed a $20 in the “save our barn” jar and packed our purchases away for the long trip home. Before leaving, I noticed a hand-painted message on a nearby shack that reminded me why our small investment was important.
Four words in black-and-white letters: “No Farmers. No Food.”