by Laura Rodley
COLRAIN, MA – A barn gets lifted up and carried away. We’re not in Kansas anymore; we’re in Western Massachusetts. It wasn’t a tornado that lifted this structure but microburst winds during a storm on June 18, strong enough to lift an unfinished barn off its sturdy foundation and move it 20 feet.
The barn was 48-by-152 feet and 35 feet to the peak. Half of the roof was up, consisting of corrugated metal. The barn was 75 percent completed. It was the dream child of Scott Roberts, third generation farmer at DAR-Ridge Farm. He was building it with the help of family and friends from milled wood from his own property with plans for it to house up to 300 pigs. He had received a Farm Viability grant to help build it and started work on Aug. 1, 2017. They poured concrete and took a break at the end of December until the first of February, when they carried on.
Roberts was in the milking barn south of his house when the June 18 microburst hit. It was a hot day. “The rain started blowing in, the wind started ripping, then roared for five seconds. Then it was gone. Ten minutes later, the storm stopped and the sun came out,” said Roberts.
Twenty of his 55 pigs were trapped under the fallen barn, including 600 to 800 pound sows. He cut through the debris with his chainsaw to make a hole big enough to run them out. Only two pigs died.
When he returned from taking the first load of pigs to neighbor Scott Sullivan’s free stall barn, the fire department was there. “Somebody must have called them; I didn’t,” said Roberts. His pigs are still housed in Sullivan’s barn.
For his 35 registered Holsteins, with 70 to 75 head of replacement stock, “it took four days of cutting to get them back to pasture because trees had taken fences down too, and we had to put fences around cherry trees,” Roberts said. The microburst cut a swath across his farm, through the woods. One of his neighbors volunteered to help as his father, Deane Roberts, ran the tractor while he cut the wood to free them. Unfortunately, they couldn’t use much of it as firewood, although they have sold 30 to 40 cords of wood for the last 30 to 40 years. “All our wood was already cut last year for the next year,” he said.
There is no great and powerful Oz in this story, but the Oz who appeared behind the curtain in the iconic “The Wizard of Oz” movie as an ordinary man appeared many times over in the form of the friends and neighbors who have helped Scott and his wife Samantha since the storm.
“I’m kind of amazed at how many people showed up to help. There was a work bee the next weekend to clean it all up and tear down what was left. We saved everything we could,” Roberts said. Storm damage included a smashed concrete wall.
On Aug. 11, a fundraiser was held at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain. As of Aug. 29, $12,000 had been raised, but they need $120,000 to $130,000 more.
“I thought the state would be more helpful now with what to do about rebuilding. They haven’t been much help at all,” said Roberts.
Locally, his farm was the hardest hit. They are no strangers to storms, though. In 2011, the river in front of their house flooded during Hurricane Irene. It took out their road, and there was water up to the edge of the dairy barn. “There were 150 round bales that we lost that all went down the river,” said Roberts. They also lost a sow, but saved the four piglets that climbed up on top of her to safety.
The 265-acre farm was started in 1940 by his grandfather, Harold Roberts. Roberts said, “My father took over from him. Someday, I’ll take over for my father.” Roberts is a member of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). His milk goes into the same truck as Agrimark. He grows 30 to 35 acres of corn and alfalfa to feed his stock.
Raising pigs happened by chance. “We got pigs because we were going to do a pig roast for our wedding. People stopped by, and wondered if we sold piglets,” Roberts said, “so we’ve sold piglets for six or seven years. We got hooked up with a vendor in Boston who wanted farmers’ market-ready pigs. He wants to get to the point of 10 a week. We’ve been sending 10 a month.” They are Tamworth Berkshire crosses with some Hampshire/Yorkshire crosses. They send the pigs for processing at Adams Slaughterhouse in Athol and the vendor picks up the meat.
Ever diversifying, this year he ventured into raising beef cattle, Angus/Holstein crosses, with Holstein steers that are kept in Halifax, VT.
The couple’s children – Connor, 9, Colton, 7 and Cyleigh, one and a half – are the farm’s fourth generation. The couple want to keep the farm viable and going strong for them.
One thing Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz could never have envisioned was a GoFundMe page, started by friends for the barn’s rebuilding.
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