The fire that burned a decades-old barn in Rosemount to the ground on May 24 left the Fox family — which has owned the farm since 1935 — frustrated and sad.
But the sight of flames licking an old building wasn't unfamiliar to Dick Fox, 85, and his family. It was the second such blaze on the property since the first of January, when another barn caught fire.
"It's hard watching your childhood go up in flames," said Rachel Stancer-Prokop, the Foxes' granddaughter. "I mean, two fires in six months is unreal."
Thirteen local fire departments responded to the most recent fire and used 120,000 gallons of water, all trucked in, to extinguish it, Stancer-Prokop said. The incident killed dozens of animals and the barn was a total loss.
The Foxes won't rebuild the barns, since Dick Fox is mostly retired. But they are moving on, already preparing their store, called Fox Farm Market, for the upcoming season.
The shop sells pumpkins in the fall and Christmas trees in the winter, along with antiques and locally made foods.
"We're not going to let our downfalls defeat us, essentially," said Stancer-Prokop. "We're going to move past them."
The community has pitched in. More than a dozen family members and friends helped plant pumpkin seeds over Memorial Day, completing the job in two hours instead of two days.
"Everything that's gone on this year — they know that we need extra help," said Joan Fox, 73, Dick's wife.
Stancer-Prokop said she's trying to convince her grandpa to plant a pick-your-own pumpkin patch on the site of the burned-down barn.
'Definitely a hit'
Dick Fox's family moved to his current home in 1935, when he was just 2 years old. He and Joan raised dairy cattle, hogs and four children on the farm's 280 acres.
The farm also experienced fires in 2000 and 2005.
The family is trying to prevent additional fires, double-checking wiring and anything else that could cause trouble, said Stancer-Prokop. The barns, because they were old, weren't insured.
The May fire killed 100 young pigs belonging to a neighbor, some chickens owned by other farmers and several female barn cats.
Chris Schaffer, who lives across the street and owned the pigs, said that luckily, he moved more than 100 other pigs out of that barn just days before. But there's no good time for a fire, he said.
"If was definitely a hit," Schaffer said. "It was emotional for a while."
Though the fire's cause is officially undetermined, the family believes that heat lamps, used by the people renting the space to raise chickens, ignited the barn.
"I think it was just carelessness," Joan Fox said. "My husband has told them a zillion times, be careful with the heat lamps."
A beloved tradition
The latest tragedies came at an especially bad time. Dick Fox had a stroke Dec. 20 and is recovering now. After months of rehabilitation, he can drive his four-wheeler around the farm, surveying what needs to be done.
Joan Fox said it was the farm store, which Dick started out of a corn crib more than 15 years ago, that motivated her husband to get well.
"I like visiting with people," Dick Fox said, joking that talking to him is the main draw for customers.
After he retired, Dick Fox needed something to do and came up with a market. He also began crafting elaborate, life-size seasonal decorations to sit outside, including snowmen, toy soldiers, an elf house and skating rink.
The store moved to a new building in 2006. The business has become a beloved tradition for many families, who now bring their children and grandchildren to buy gourds, homemade maple syrup or Christmas wreaths, the family said. "It's fun, girly shopping, though we do get men, too," Joan Fox said.
Schaffer noted that the Foxes are well-known — and well-liked — in Rosemount. Dick Fox was once active in local farming organizations, Schaeffer said, but now the store that connects him to the community.
"It's a really good fit for him," Schaffer said.