Although Judy Landers of Sandwich hadn’t been inside a barn for years, attending the DeKalb County Barn Tour on Saturday brought back childhood memories she almost forgot.
Landers grew up on a farm south of Shabbona, where her family kept cows, chickens, pigs, horses and sheep.
"I haven't been in a barn for years and years, but all of the memories came rushing back to me," Landers said.
"I remember playing in the barn, milking the cow, just growing up on a farm. That's just how we live. We were farmers, and I loved it. I wouldn't trade that life for anything."
Landers was one of the hundreds of people that attended the sixth annual DeKalb County Barn Tour, an event created in partnership by the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association and the Glidden Homestead and Historical Center. The event also was co-sponsored by Resource Bank and Pioneer State Bank.
This year’s barn tour featured seven barns in southern DeKalb County in Victor Township. One barn was located in Waterman, two in Somonauk and four in Leland.
Each barn featured different activities, booths and displays, from antique and restored tractors to children’s activities.
Tour attendees could buy different items at each barn, as well, including produce, herbs and flowers from Sweet Seeds Organics; food from the Waterman Lions Club; farm-to-table lunch selections from Red Home Farm; and barn tour T-shirts and posters.
“We partnered to form the event because we were concerned with how old barns are being torn down and disappearing,” said Marcia Wilson, Barn Tour committee member and retired director of the Glidden Homestead. “New farm machinery can’t fit in them, and now there more grain farmers than livestock farmers. The barns just sit on the farm, mostly unused except for storage, deteriorate and are lost. We wanted to highlight the barns of DeKalb County, show their beautiful architecture, their functional uses and how they’re still being used today.”
DeKalb County historian Sue Breese described the event as “a way to see the historic barns of DeKalb County before they slowly fade away.”
“The barn tour is so much more than visiting a barn; it’s an opportunity to go to a farm, see food being grown and livestock being raised,” Breese said. “You can see barns of every color, shape and size, corn cribs, carriage houses, silos, tractors. It’s a way to see some of the beautiful agricultural history of DeKalb County in one day.
Jerry and Sharon Bergfeld of Leland, whose family farm and barn were the fourth stop on the tour, were excited to show off their family’s barn, which houses a herd of Black Angus heifers. Visitors to their farm also could see a 4-day-old calf.
“We love living on a farm because there’s wide-open spaces, your neighbors aren’t right on top of you, there are no street lights and you can see the sky and hear the crickets,” Sharon Bergfeld said. “It’s quiet and peaceful out in the country. You can commune with nature. You can just imagine what life was like all those years ago on the farm.”
Reminiscing about life on the farm is the reason why Bud and Debra Burgin of DeKalb attended the barn tour. Bud Burgin’s family farm north of Somonauk has been in his family for 165 years.
“They don’t have a barn on their property anymore; it was torn down years ago,” Debra Burgin said. “It’s interesting to see the old barns, how they’re used and maintained. A lot of people don’t understand farming or the importance of barns for livestock. It’s nice to get out of the car and look inside the barns you’d only pass by from the road.”
Paul Sawyer of Waterman’s barn was the first stop on the tour. The Sawyer farm had about 20 antique tractors on display, and visitors could have their pictures taken on one.
Sawyer was born on his family’s farm and has lived there all his life, except when he attended college and was in the military. Five generations of his family have helped run the farm, which has been in the family since 1892.
"I've lived here all my life, and it's great to share my farm and experiences with others," Sawyer said.
"I'd tell the people that didn't attend the tour today that they missed a nice event. … Life in the country is incomparable to life anywhere else. It's different. Barns are full of history and memories, if only the walls could talk and tell stories."