Burning Barn

I have been feeling a bit subdued today after watching a barn burn last night. It was located a fifteen minute drive from here, following a circuitous route across the Mohawk River, but only about three miles as the crow flies. From our hilltop there is a clear view to the farms on that side of the valley.

Word about town this morning was that neighbors were able to release the animals and move one tractor at substantial personal risk, but the large two story barn, all the hay, and several tractors and equipment were lost. That this happened with no loss of life or injury is a relief, but of course the effects will linger long for the family.  For all of us on the outside, it was a reminder that just a few minutes can flip one’s world upside down.

Among other things, I’ve been thinking about our farm’s vulnerability to catastrophe. Pasture-based operations have more resilience than confinement farms,  just because there are fewer single points of failure. And diverse farms have the protection offered by multiple enterprises, allowing one to go bust while another pulls through.

But those are rather weak consolations and only reassuring in abstraction.  As we grow, we put more inventory into our walk in freezers and coolers.  If we get the point of sustaining ourselves solely from the farm, I think we’ll need to have a bigger investment in a large refrigerated building.  So even though our livestock and our feed storage systems are relatively safe due to their dispersal, all the farm’s revenue depends on a concentrated, efficient, and vulnerable freezer/cooler/packing area.

A disaster mitigation plan would probably need to involve storing some part of our inventory elsewhere, especially in the fall when our seasonal beef and chicken butchering creates a peak in our storage requirements.  That is the rub, since the nearest freezer warehouse is an hour away and charges $50 per month per pallet.  Worse, that warehouse flooded a few weeks ago, so they probably aren’t a step-up in terms of protection.

I’m not sure what the best approach would be.  Our current policy on disaster preparedness is something on the lines of, “Let’s work harder and hope nothing bad happens.”  That actually sums up all our policies.  We focus so much on just trying to make the farm work that we really don’t put any consideration into making it last.

Up close. Image credit: Fort Plain Fire Department

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