Ranch & Rural Living, January 2007

A Barn Raising

Ranch Rural

It is still night time at the Arnosky family farm. As the first light of day softens the quiet darkness, trucks and cars begin to roll into the parking area. Men and women work their way toward the barn foundation; carrying their own hammers, nail aprons, saws, tape measures, and drills.

Voices are heard, mere murmurs at first, then gently rising to a crescendo of eager anticipation. The early morning air is filled with the perfume of a thousand flowers; mingled with essences of coffee, breakfast tacos and freshly made beignets. The bard raising is about to begin!

“Barn raising.” The very phrase evokes images of old time community spirit, neighbors-helping-neighbors, and good old-fashioned American work-ethic. Most of those qualities seem to be in short supply these days, as modern day road warriors daily rush home from corporate jobs to plop themselves in front of their televisions, oblivious to their neighbors or to neighborhood concerns.

Fortunately, community spirit does still exist in a little corner of Blanco County, at the farmstead of Frank and Pamela Arnosky. In 1990 the Arnosky family acquired a small 12 acre cedar-covered parcel halfway between Blanco and Wimberley, at the intersection of RR 165 and RR 2325.

After clearing a road into the property and pitching a tent, they began earnest work toward achieving their longtime dream.. to create a specialty flower and vegetable farm, where they could apply their agricultural and horticultural expertise, and raise their children.

From all outwards appearances, success has smiled on the Arnosky family. Their 12 acre plot has now grown to 130, and their business, “Texas Specialty Cut Flowers,” currently consists of some 40 acres of flowers and 14 greenhouses. And the Arnoskys have kept true to their goal of operating a true “family farm,” with all four children (Elena, Janos, Hannah Rose and Derrick) involved in the farming operations. The Arnoskys have chosen to homeschool their children, where, in addition to learning traditional subjects, they gain valuable practical lessons on motivation and how to set goals and accomplish them.

Freshly cut flowers, farm-raised vegetables, and a variety of potted plants are sold at their farm stand every Saturday, when visitors can also tour the fields of flowers and hike throughout the farm. The entire family participates in operating the stand, as well as making regular appearances at several farmers markets around Austin area. Additionally, cut-flower bouquets, personally arranged by Pamela, are delivered twice weekly to Houston-area Central Market stores, less than one day old from the field.

As the cut-flower operation has grown, so has the need for large barn to accommodate the various needs of the business.

Pamela dreamed of a barn that would be fashioned after some of the old Texas historic dance halls, a place that could be used for community events such as dances, as well as serving the needs of the farm. She has been fascinated by the simple yet elegant design of Fischer Hall, a historic meeting hall still in use at nearby Fischer, Texas, a once-thriving farming and ranching community center.

Budget constraints have always been a concern at the farm, and Frank and Pamela struggled to find a way to bring their barn from dream to reality.

The actual concept of a community barn raising took shape after the Arnoskys met with a group of local wood craftsmen at Fischer Hall earlier this year. In attendance was Gary Weeks, a well known and highly regarded fine furniture maker from Wimberley. Gary had long dreamed of being involved with a barn raising and offered to design the structure and take on supervision of the construction process.

A friend, Phillip Sell said he would like to be one to build the gracefully arched roof trusses.

That was all the encouragement Frank and Pamela needed to commit to setting a late September date for the barn raising event.

On barn raising Day One, arriving volunteers range in skill from experienced carpenters and furniture makers to rank amateurs… potters, teachers, homemakers, students, farmers and musicians. Many volunteers are complete strangers, drawn merely by the intrigue of participating in such a unique event.

As new volunteers arrive, they are first directed to a sign-in tent and given name tags. Then, based on skill-levels, they are efficiently assigned to one of several teams already hard at work.

To a casual onlooker, it appears that there is really no one supervising the some-200 volunteers participating in the massive project. Like ants, participants seem to automatically assume a particularly useful role. On closer examination however, it is Gary Weeks, the master designer and project supervisor, who seems to be everywhere at once, exuding a quiet and unassuming, yet commanding presence, gently guiding each eager team in their assigned tasks.

While one group is busy assembling two-level scaffolding around the entire perimeter of the future barn, another group is busy marking and cutting lumber for later assembly into wall components. A further team spends the morning lovingly sanding every surface of the beautiful, graceful and handcrafted arched beams that seem to belong more as fine pieces of furniture then components of a barn.

Still other groups are busily assembling the 12 large and clear heart redwood windows, or constructing the individual sections of walls that will go up later in the day.

By mid-morning local musician Bernard Mollberg and various musical friends have set up their instruments and begin to provide musical entertainment for all the volunteers. A variety of groups, coordinated by Bernard, perform continuously well into the evening.

Meanwhile, Pamela Arnosky presides over breakfast and lunch-time preparations, organizing the wide array of food brought by other volunteers, and efficiently coordinating the serving process to see that the scores of participants are well fed and fortified for the work ahead.

Before noon one entire massive wall has been raised and secured in one place. Eager volunteers, caught up in the excitement of the quickly growing structure, toil without stopping; pausing just briefly to partake of the snacks and drinks, which are carried around on treys throughout the day.

By day’s end, all four walls of the Arnosky Family Farm barn have miraculously been raised and solidly anchored into place, where mere hours before only a bare foundation existed. The volunteers, tired and weary, press on valiantly until the sun begins to set. Finally, as twilight encroaches, tools are out away, and the workday comes to an end.

Tents and chairs have been set up, and everyone joins in a self-congratulatory celebration, sharing food, drink, music, and good conversation. New friends have been made, and the impossible has been accomplished. Yes, community spirit is alive and well in this little corner of Blanco county!

-By Phil Auldridge