June 25, 2016

Mostly sunny

Ruined barn remains a monument to farming life

HARRISVILLE TWP. — In the calm after the storm, with the evening dusk gathering at his feet, Dick Indoe looked at what the wind had left of the main barn at Richman Farms. It had been a county landmark, and the backdrop for his whole life.

“This barn has been a monument,” he said. “One of my vows was to keep this barn in good health as long as I lived.”

A determined farmer can do a lot of things, but he can’t stop the wind, which Thursday afternoon roared over the Black River and across the Indoe family’s picturesque farm, sparing houses, but flattening three barns, carefully and completely.

“It really blew the farm apart,” Indoe said. Like his sons Tom and Bill and other family members, he was amazingly composed, and deeply grateful no one was hurt.

Beautiful brown timbers in the main barn that had not seen the light of day since it was built in 1931 now glowed in the twilight. Maple trees that once shaded the barnyard looked like bowling pins after a strike. Crumpled sheet metal and shattered plastic lay in the mud, house windows were shattered, wires were down. Here and there, cats silently investigated the wreckage, thinking their own thoughts.

In fields, soybean plants were stripped of their leaves. Corn leaned to the east, pointing the direction of the storm, like living weather vanes. Fresh green mulch plastered roads, buildings and trailers. The air smelled damp, of vegetation, of hay, of earth and of fresh sawdust where chainsaws were already clearing fallen trees.

On this terrible August night, in these rolling hills worked and loved by generations of Indoes — one of the first families of Medina County agriculture — the ruined barn was still a monument: A monument to neighbors, to community, to what farming life is all about.

Immediately after the disaster struck, an estimated 150 volunteers and emergency workers descended on the farm. They brought trailers and construction equipment. They lifted parts of buildings to free trapped animals, cared for those that were injured, moved 45 dairy cows to another farm for evening milking, mended fences, picked up debris and brought wagons to save as much hay as they could.

Instinctively, they knew what to do to start to put a farm and a family back together, and they did it. Sad, but hopeful. Pure in purpose, but covered in mud.

County Sheriff Neil Hassinger was among them, unsurprised by the response, but marveling, nonetheless.

“You can’t take it for granted, yet it’s what you expect,” he said.

Patti Boyert, of Boyert’s Greenhouse & Farm in Montville Township, said of the Indoes: “They help the community so much themselves. So anything we can do to help them get going, we’ll do.”

It is impossible not to see all this — everyone working, everyone knowing what to do — and to be struck by the thought of how precious it is, and how increasingly rare.

When a disaster hits a neighborhood, people are the same. They care for each other, they pitch in, and they help. But this is different.

If you are in farming long enough, you will experience your share of plagues: fire, hail, bad luck, bad health and broken machines. So, when it happens to your neighbor, you know what it’s like and you know what to do. After all, they picked you up, and dusted you off, and set you on your feet again when it happened to you.

This is more than people helping people. It’s about family farms, a way of life and a reverence for life, that goes back centuries, but today seems endangered by forces as much outside a farmer’s control as a ravaging wind.

Looking around, Boyert said, “I think everybody who still farms in Medina County is here.”
Let’s hope they are here for a long time to come.