Friends of Minnesota Barns is offering ideas, testimonials and a contest to persuade people to repair, rather than raze, the historic structures, which are quickly fading from the landscape.
Curt Richter calls it buying time.
With a little time, he reasons, maybe he can persuade the owner of an aging barn not to tear it down.
Richter, of Scandia, is a leader in a statewide effort to repair and preserve Minnesota's historic barns through education.
The rate of barn loss in Minnesota is staggering. On average, about 1,300 historic barns vanish a year, according to a recent survey by the Minnesota Historical Society.
"To me, it seems like it's accelerating even more," said Richter, who is chairman of the board of directors of the Friends of Minnesota Barns, a grass-roots organization.
The group started a "Barn of the Year" contest this fall, asking people from all over the metro area and outstate Minnesota to submit before-and-after photos of their restored barns.
The Friends received more than 50 entries. Winners will be announced at the group's Fall Harvest Celebration on Oct. 25 at the Woodhill Country Club in Wayzata.
The entries submitted reflect a wide range of barn styles and uses, Richter said. Some have become dance halls. One is now the place where the owner's grandkids play basketball.
The idea, Richter explained, was to use examples and testimonials to show people how they, too, can remake their barns.
"A lot of what we do is communication -- giving resources to barn owners, giving them ideas how to reuse their barns," Richter said. "Ultimately, if you can find a use for a barn, it's going to get preserved. That's the biggest threat -- when there's no use or no perceived use."
Barns have increasingly become an endangered species as development pushes farther out into communities once dominated by farms.
Some of the older-style barns also have fallen into disrepair because of changes in the way farming is done, Richter said. "Some of them have been vacant since the '70s and '80s," he said. "There was a big dairy buyout in the late '70s, early '80s and a lot of dairy farmers got bought out."
With no cows, farmers had less need to store hay.
They also began to store hay outside in large bales, Richter said, and didn't need the high-top barns anymore.
The shift from smaller farms to large acreage farms added to the problem, as it created a redundancy for farmers who now had multiple barns to maintain across 600 acres. "The problem is that they sat there since the '70s and '80s and if they haven't had anything done to them, then all of a sudden maintenance needs are hitting at the same time," Richter said. "They're taking the toll of neglect."
Recently, the Friends of Minnesota Barns received a Minnesota 150 grant from the state historical society to take an inventory of historic barns and farmsteads throughout Minnesota and record their histories.
The group also hopes to start working more with local governments, to push for recognition of barns as symbols of the rural atmosphere that so many outer-ring suburban communities outspokenly value.
In Stillwater Township, for example, there was a barn that was in danger of being demolished. The Friends spoke on behalf of the barn. The township has a program that offers to give one or two extra lots to anyone who is subdividing if they choose to preserve a historic barn, Richter said. "That's a nice example of preservation-friendly ordinances that we'd like to incorporate in other communities," he said.
The city of Stillwater also has a barn-friendly ordinance. The city requires residents to seek a demolition permit before tearing down any old building. Richter said in the last year, someone tore down a barn and was fined for not seeking the permit.
"There definitely is a move towards preserving the barns now," he said. "I'm delighted to see that."
Allie Shah • 651-298-1550.