The Old Red Barn

When Ted first suggested we move our vegetable business into the old barn, I was dead set against the idea.

I had nothing against the building, mind you. A well-loved local landmark, it has stood prominently alongside the road for decades. When people spotted it, they knew they were almost in town. Or if they were driving the other way, the sight of the barn told them that they were truly out in the country.

I preferred looking at the barn from the outside.  I loved selling vegetables and eggs in open air. We had our tables set out under the trees, and I couldn’t think of a nicer place to spend the day. I wasn’t keen to swap all that fresh air and sunshine for the gloomy, musty interior of a barn.

But I could certainly see Ted’s point. On hot summer days, we’d be up bright and early picking crisp, gorgeous lettuce, and by noon it would look as if it had spent the better part of a week on a truck. We’d see skeptical customers poking at the wilting, woebegone carrot tops and assure them, “We dug those just this morning.” Wet days were even worse. We’d just stand there and watch the cars pass us by, their windows rolled up tightly against the rain.

Still, I needed some highly unusual persuasion before I agreed to make the move.

For some time, we had noticed that our cartons of eggs were occasionally one or two short. Ted even joked that I was having trouble counting to twelve.

One morning, walking across the lawn, I caught a glimpse of white out of the corner of my eye. There, nestled in the grass at my feet, was one of our missing eggs. Before long, we were all finding eggs. Ted spotted one in the garden, tucked among the cucumbers. The boys discovered one smashed on the driveway. One customer jokingly asked how we trained our chickens to lay eggs in the flowerbeds.

My son Bill finally solved the mystery. He noticed a large magpie flying rather unsteadily across the yard one day. As the bird wobbled closer, Bill could see an egg clutched in its claws. Suddenly, the feathered shoplifter dropped its cargo, then swooped down to see if the shell had broken. Finding the egg unscathed, the magpie flew away, disappointed.

Bill ran to tell us his discovery. When Ted finally stopped chuckling, he asked if now I’d be willing to move into the barn. Grudgingly, I gave my consent.

Of course, the task involved more than just relocating a few tables. For years the barn had served as our chicken coop. We kept the place reasonably tidy, but it was not fit for selling produce. Wisely, we decided to postpone the move until the following spring.

After weeks of shovelling, sweeping, scrubbing, and painting, the place was ready. Ted set it up beautifully, with rows of sloping tables and large baskets brimming with vegetables. We kept plenty of fresh shavings around, so it smelled heavenly.

We had a couple of lovely old scales with rolling dials. Since we never got around to having the things properly tested, I always gave people an extra pound here, a couple pounds there, to make sure they were getting full value. People just loved that: it wasn’t the sort of thing that happened in a big-city supermarket.

Best of all, even on the hottest afternoons, the barn was wonderfully cool and the vegetables stayed crisp and fresh. Customers drooping under the August heat perked up the moment they walked through the door. On Saturdays and Sundays, wives often lingered to chat. Their husbands spread blankets outside in the shade and lay there reading while the kids raced around the yard or climbed the trees. A simple shopping expedition turned into a real family outing.

In no time at all, that rustic old barn, with “Hole’s Farm” freshly emblazoned on its side, became the cornerstone of our business. People loved it so much that we began featuring it in our ads: “Come out and get your vegetables at the old red barn.” Our little local landmark was now famous for miles around, and we found ourselves selling more vegetables than we ever dreamed possible.

Today, even though the old red barn is long gone, it holds a big place in our hearts.
And maybe that’s why, unlike most farmers, I have a soft spot in my heart for magpies.

-Lois Hole  I'll Never Marry A Farmer