Thursday, October 24, 2013

Historic barn enthusiasts preserve living agricultural heritage

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
October 24, 2013


Nobody knows exactly how many really old barns there are in Michigan. But the Michigan Barn Preservation Network is interested in keeping them standing. Zinta Aistars has the story.

Steve Stier thoughtfully considered the reasons he, as president of Michigan Barn Preservation Network, and others like him, believe the barns of Michigan should be preserved, even revered.  
Photo by Erik Holladay at

"The old barns are a living history book of our agricultural heritage," he says. "The pole buildings of today, I don’t honor them with the word 'barn.'"

Michigan Barn Preservation Network (MBPN) is a statewide nonprofit organization of barn owners and enthusiasts. Enthusiasts, Stier says, include a wide range of people with eclectic interests in barns: preserving and maintaining barns, making models of barns, photography of barns, creating artwork of barns, and the generally curious about agricultural history. 

"Our members include all kinds of people with all kinds of interests, including farmers and those who wish they could farm or who live on property with barns," Stier says. 

MBPN, he says, was started in 1995 at Michigan State University with a mission to raise awareness about preserving barns throughout Michigan, along with growing an endowment to do so. The raising of an old Michigan barn at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. the prior year had also raised interest in preserving barns.

MBPN now holds annual conferences, workshops on barn repair and maintenance, barn tours, and occasionally members gather to help in a barn raising.

"We’ll be doing just that this month," says Stier. "We are helping to raise the Stone Coop Farm in Brighton for an organic CSA (community-supported agriculture) that needed an old barn. They acquired two old barns, took them apart, and moved the materials to a new site. We’ll have about 20 people involved, assembling the parts on one day, standing the frame up the next."   

Stier is one of 12 board members for MBPN. He grew up on a small farm in central Michigan, "and hated it." He laughs. "Growing up, I saw my father do a lot of work for very little pay. It was a hard life. Now, I wish I’d paid more attention to my father’s work."

Leaving the farm life when he reached adulthood and independence, Stier built a career in construction, earning several degrees along the way, including a second master’s in historical preservation. Over the years, it was that interest that grew. 

"I realized that I hated new construction," he says. "I’ve worked on barns the last 15 years or so, but I’m interested in all kinds of preservation, not just barns."

Some of the oldest barns MBPN members have located, Stier says, are in ...


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