YouthBuild Raises New Farm's Roof

May 1, 2020
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When the barn is ready to be built, the builders will come. And so they came and just in time -- ten YouthBuild Austin apprentices and their seasoned lead trainer Rob Winchester arrived like an early Christmas present.

What they found, when they arrived at New Farm Institute’s River Farm home in November, was an almost-pole barn with only half a roof, no walls, lots of mud and some very unplumbed cedar posts hastily cemented in the ground.

Call it serendipity or just good timing, Youthbuild’s arrival was one of those classic examples of asking for help and the universe responding in unimagined ways. With news that we had to vacate our city farm with barely two months notice, Erin and I began the holidays with a countdown, frantically trying to imagine, not only where we and our livestock would be housed, but where New Farm would operate.  Some programming had been scheduled, in some cases, a year prior. A fundraising campaign was launched; a plan was devised: purchase two shipping containers top with an impromptu roof to quickly create both storage and shelter. Donations came in, but not enough. What to do?

Parker puts a joist in place

The Big Red Barn and the Bergstrom farmhouse at the city farm have been New Farm's classrooms, teaching kitchen, storage facility, office, library and meeting space since the farm's inception in 2006. No such spaces existed at our Bastrop farm.

YouthBuild learned about our need from one of its AmeriCorps volunteers who was a CSA workshare this fall season. Pennsylvania native Seth Refuggio had come to Austin to hone his carpentry skills; he showed up at our farm to keep his hands in the soil. He kept coming back each Saturday, all the while noticing how much infrastructure was needed at the Bastrop farm.

As luck would have it, Youthbuild had a week or two lull between finishing a house in East Austin and starting construction on a ranger cabin at the Arkansas Bend State Park near Logo Vista. Participants in the program learn and practice construction skills by repairing and weatherizing homes for low-income home owners and building new affordable housing. Building a barn was a sudden yet exciting detour for all of them. We seized the opportunity Seth presented, quickly gathering materials from all corners, including from another cool Austin non-profit, Austin Materials Marketplace, to transform the pole barn into a weatherproof space, fit for a classroom with room for materials and supplies.

Lead Trainer Rob Winchester shows students how to lay out a studs for the barn wall.

Our deadline was made more pressing with the forecast of flooding rains. We worked hard, taking only short breaks to harvest veggies in the fields for our farm-fresh lunches. But the work was actually a nice break, the crew confided, from the tedium of doing interior detail work on a two-bedroom house. And it was instructive work — mostly learning what not to do as they dealt with walls that were not square and posts that were not plumb.

We were ready to put on the roof as the clouds opened up. By the time the last sheet of tin was fastened down, our dirt roads were so muddy that we told everyone it was time to pack up now or never. Sure enough, five inches of rain came down, but the classroom stayed dry.

Despite our muddy, impassable roads and other challenges, the crew returned to finish floors and walls and put siding on. They came back again to help us rehome our chickens in a new coop and get started on a patio beside the barn. Somehow the universe knew that students building teaching space for other students was how this needed to get done.

A heartfelt thanks to YouthBuild for putting a roof over New Farm’s new home. Come see!