Model Modern Barn Raising: An All-American Community Project Aboard Spaceship Earth

January 23, 2013

“The only true and effective ‘operator’s manual for spaceship earth’ is not a book that any human will ever write; it is hundreds of thousands of local cultures.”  ― Wendell Berry, What are People For?

This structure will be re-habbed and 'raised' to serve anew as a community hub.

This barn will be ‘raised’ (rehabbed) to serve anew as a community hub. 

For over a century there has been a steady pulling back from the land in North America. People have been replaced by increasingly mechanized means as the industrial agriculture model, with its focus on profits rather than people, has proliferated. Social roots have been ripped out.

But as modeled by a ‘barn raising’ project at the Angelic Organics Farm in Caledonia, Illinois, it is time to bring local communities of human beings – the local cultures Wendell Berry speaks of — back into active relationship with the land that feeds them.

This is not an philosophical ideal or an armchair theory, but rather a crucial and present necessity brought on by stark social, environmental, and economic realities.

Farmer Trauger Groh of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm expressed the ideas eloquently over 20 years ago when we teamed up to write Farms of Tomorrow. Our book contained basic essays on new structures for community supported farms.

Driven by Tauger’s insights, those essays acknowledged that farming is not just a business like any other profit-making business, but a precondition of all human life on earth, and a precondition of all economic activity. As such, farming is everyone’s responsibility, and has likewise to be accessible for everyone. Community farms (CSA) are an increasingly useful and popular way to meet this responsibility.

By ‘raising’ a beautiful old barn to become an active community hub for their CSA and the local community at large, Angelic Organics is creating a model for deeper, more meaningful, and more practically powerful community involvement with the land and the farmers who tend it – their ambassadors to the earth.

The farm is home to the non-profit Angelic Organics Learning Center, a resource for adults and children seeking to connect to the land, and to renew our ecology, economy and culture. Many of the farm’s classes are held in the dairy barn and the corn crib that the farmers have begun to transform into majestic community spaces, filled with light and vibrant color and breathtaking panoramic views of the Midwestern prairie.

To finish the barn, the farm has launched a Kickstarter campaign (Barns are for People, Too) complete with a delightful and educational video clip. The video shows how they will complete the necessary construction and safety measures to convert the barn and corn crib into public spaces with a stage, fire escapes, emergency lighting and stairwells.

spaceship_earthThe improvements will transform the space into a beautifully crafted gathering place for children’s groups, beginner farmers, members of the farm’s successful CSA, and people who naturally yearn for a direct connection with the land that sustains them. It will also serve as a model, as Wendell Berry encourages, for agrarian initiatives in North America and around the world, thereby aiding local cultures to navigate wisely aboard spaceship earth.


Hog Heaven: Earthbarns for the 21st Century

June 12, 2011

The Earthbarn - a sustainable, patented design by Charlie Partin.

Sculptor and architect Charlie Partin has created a revolutionary design for an earth-sheltered barn that may bring a much-needed wave of sustainability, energy efficiency, health and beauty to farms – rural, urban, and suburban – as they raise crops and livestock to feed the world.

Partin says his simple, elegant and energy-efficient design can be erected quickly and economically, with basic costs as low as $50 per square foot. That’s well below typical construction expenses. Over time, he asserts, with reduced energy and maintenance needs, savings will mount substantially.

Partin has the talent, training and track record to give weight to his assertions. Now somebody needs to step forward and give him a chance to prove what the Earthbarn can do. It’s time to move the barn from blueprint conception into the field as a working prototype that can be measured, studied and emulated. The need is great.

In modern agriculture, the CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), which raise animals for meat, have created staggering environmental and health concerns. As reported in the The New York Times on Sunday, June 12, animals raised on a mass, industrial scale for human consumption are often held in barns which are unsanitary and can lead to profound health problems, including MRSA which is now widespread in hog barns and among people who deal with hogs.

The Earthbarn is a working building in natural concert with its surroundings, as evident from its both its structural profile, and from its actual above-ground enmeshment with the Earth and the forces of nature. Situated above-ground by design, the Earthbarn is buttressed literally, visually, and metaphysically through berms of soil which surround it, keeping it high, dry, solid and sleek against whirling winds.

By working with the natural forces of the earth, rather than against them, the barns provide low-cost, energy-efficient, light-filled and secure shelter for livestock. The barns could make a profound difference on farms not just in rural areas, but also in suburban and urban communities where so many sustainable food initiatives — from CSA to urban ag — are underway in the USA, Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, and in hundreds of other places around the globe.

Metro train station in Washington, DC.

In an interview, Partin told me that the first spark of inspiration for Earthbarn design came to him while he was passing through the Metro train station in Washington, DC, and beheld its vaulted arches. He saw a space flooded with natural light.

From this inspiration, Partin initially envisioned an earth-sheltered residential structure constructed on these principles: the Undergreen House. He produced a Youtube video to share the idea.

Soon though, the design idea developed further. Living in Steele City, Nebraska where he has established Partin Studios in the town’s celebrated brickyard near the Little Blue River, he was in position to recognize the acute problems faced by farmers who raise swine or poultry for human consumption. Partin’s vision rose to the challenge and he created the innovative, patented barn design. He posted another Youtube video specifically about the Earthbarn. To appreciate the barn’s design principles and elements, though, it’s necessary to watch the Undergreen home segment first.

In addition to their low cost and their physical harmony with the land, Earthbarns have three key strengths:

  • Air. The use of earth berms to support and insulate the barn creates a dramatically high, virtually airtight insulative factor for temperature regulation. Underground earth tubes bring in a natural flow of fresh air, while filtering the smells of outgoing air.
  • Light – clerestory widows running the length of the barn roof bring natural sunlight to the animals in support of their health and well-being. The clerestory windows bounce natural light into the parabolic interior of the barn, flooding the space below.
  • Energy – the Earthbarn design is energy efficient because earth terraces protect the structure. Thus the barn, while actually above grade, has the snug security of being underground and supplied by fresh air that is regulated by the earth to establish a nearly constant median temperature to maintain a comfortable environment. Consequently, Earthbarns consume a minimal amount of energy, and can be built as off-grid structures with minimal energy needs that can be supplied by solar panels.

With the patented Earthbarn design complete, Charlie is seeking an opportunity to build the first prototype so it can be tested, evaluated, and constructed widely.

– End –


%d bloggers like this: