The Story of the Big White Barn

Nestled among the oak-studded valleys and spread across the wide plains of Sonoma County, visitors traveling our country roads frequently come upon scenes of what has been the backbone industry of this area for generations – the small family farm.

How often have you driven around the bend of one of the many back roads of this area and been charmed by a picturesque old weathered barn set amidst the fields, late afternoon sun sending shafts of golden light to fill the tableau with a magical quality?

You might think, how quaint. You might wonder about the people who lived there generations ago when then barn was newly built, what their lives and work were like compared to our fast-paced lifestyle now. Then you drive on to your next task of the day and the bucolic scene fades away in the midst of the business of the modern world.

dismantled barn
white barn

This is the story of one such barn, built nearly 100 years ago, around the time Luther Burbank lived and farmed in Sonoma County, during the age of prohibition and before construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Although not considered an historical landmark, this barn is nonetheless an example of our shared Sonoma County culture.

The barn's original location was on what is now called Mark West Springs Road, just a few miles away from Tierra Vegetables Farm. In 2011, the barn was considered for demolition to make way for the construction of the new Sutter Hospital. Fortunately, Sutter Hospital and Tierra Vegetables were able to collaborate and the structure was donated to Tierra Vegetables – as long as they were able to disassemble it and remove it from its present location.

The level of commitment in undertaking such a task was no small consideration for the farm; it required time, logistics, and a financial investment all to be carried out on farmland that was leased by Tierra Vegetables from Sonoma County Land Trust.

Lee and Wayne James' Story

While we pondered the cost of moving such an item from there to here (no, we could not just tow the thing down the road as much as we dreamed of the possibility) and weighed this against the cost of simply building a new barn (all to be carried out on land that we leased and did not yet own), we considered the value of preserving this historic resource which appears to date to at least 1924, according to a carved beam found within the structure.

Once our decision was made, we proceeded with disassembly of the barn at its original site in December of 2010. All of the pieces were then moved to the farm on Airport Boulevard and reassembled in 2011 like a huge jigsaw puzzle. This involved numerous details, strategic planning and lots of fundraising.

sunflower and barn
barn framework

By the fall of 2011 we were able to move the contents of the farm into the barn which dramatically increased our operational and storage capacities. Serendipitously, the completion of the move and rebuilding of the Big White Barn occurred just as our original farm stand location was lost due to the Airport Boulevard expansion; amidst the chaos of change, progress and reclamation came together and all the pieces fell gracefully into place. The timing could not have been better; we were able to preserve our farm stand located at the farm itself, provide added storage for our crops on site, thus reducing our carbon footprint further, and once again offer up to our Sonoma County community the tradition of a working family farm, barn and all.

The big white barn is not only an asset to our farming operation, it is an investment in the valued history of our community. One of our Tierra Vegetables customers visited this barn as a child and recalls playing in it, she donated a persimmon tree that is planted on the southeast edge of the barn here at the farm. With each passing season the barn and the tree settle into their new farm home. We hope that when you visit our family farm you too can share in a piece of our community history and appreciate the connection to our land, our food and our livelihood that stretches back generations here in Sonoma County.