The Heart of the Farm

A 100-year-old dairy barn only seems out of place in the Arizona desert.

By Richard Banks | Photos By Paul Connors

As you drive along the eastern edge of the Sonoran desert, an hour south of Phoenix, you may think it’s just a mirage. There amongst the cactus and craggy mountains, a barn rises from the hardscrabble, looking like a visage straight out of the Midwestern U.S.

Don’t worry. Your eyes aren’t playing tricks. The 45-foot-high and 95-foot-long barn hails from Green Bay, Wis., transplanted by Katie and Harold Christ, owners of Florence Farms Nursery and The Windmill Winery in Florence, Ariz.

“I was born and raised on a Wisconsin dairy farm and Harold was raised on a dairy in New Mexico,” explains Katie. “We both love old barns and it just seemed so sad to us whenever we’d go home to Wisconsin and see the old barns falling down and abandoned, knowing they once were the heart of that farm.”

Katie had family back in the Badger State send photos of barns for sale, which lead to the purchase of the now 101-year-old barn. “We chose it because of its size and architecture, and the price was surprisingly reasonable.”

“When it arrived in Arizona,” she continues, “Harold went to the city for a building permit, but they requested a set of building plans, which, of course, there were none for this turn-of-the-century barn. We then had to hire a company in Vermont to draw up a set of plans while putting it back together. Our inexpensive barn just got quite expensive. Harold always says we’re not as smart as we look!”

It took over a year to move and reconstruct the old barn. “We sand-blasted and steamed the wood. On the outside it had about 50 coats of paint,” notes Harold. Yet, in the summer of 2006, it was finally open to the public at its new home, and, today, hosts a variety of events, including weddings, proms, corporate events and wine tastings. The Arizona governor even paid it a visit in early August 2011.

The barn is now the centerpiece of the 154-acre nursery and winery, which is also home to 2 small lakes and, soon, a new amphitheatre. Katie adds, the barn has “been used in filming a movie and this past April, we had the country music group, Little Big Town, shoot a video inside.

“Great memories have been made in this old barn,” she continues. “Besides preserving its history, the most rewarding part of this project has been meeting the people that gather here and the interest they take in learning about it. The barn is, once again, the heart of the farm.

See It Now: a music video recorded at the Windmill Winery barn by country music band Little Big Town.

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