By Aleksandra Robinson
UNION BRIDGE – For most of his life, Jay Mackenzie wanted to own a farm.
“I have wanted a farm since I was about 10. When I was 20, I was going to have a 500-acre farm,” said Mackenzie, 50, of Union Bridge. “As you get older it gets smaller and smaller.”
When he finally managed to purchase his 125-acre farm near Frederick in 2007, he had to borrow all he could against the house he built in 1984 to afford it.
Mackenzie said he doesn’t break even on the farm and must continue working as a full-time carpenter with a three-hour round-trip commute.
“You got to watch every penny,” Mackenzie said.
Even so, there are problems Mackenzie doesn’t have the time or money to fix — like the 1856, wood-and-brick, bank barn next to his house.
And that’s where the Campbell Soup Co. comes in.
Mackenzie’s barn is one of 10 chosen by the Future Farmers of America alumni organization to participate in an online competition. The winners of the competition will have their barns restored by the company, said John Faulkner, director of brand communications.
At press time, Mackenzie’s “Just Wait and See” farm barn was tied for third place with 11 percent of the votes.
In January, the company will announce the five barns with the most votes. Work on the barns will likely begin in the spring Faulkner said.
“We’re not doing from-the-ground-up restoration,” Faulkner said. “We’re talking about a project that is two or three days in length and is as much about the group getting behind it.”
The money Campbell donates will go to purchase things like lumber, paint and roofing material, while kids from local FFA chapters, guided by alumni and teachers, will do the actual work on the barn.
Matthew Koerner, Maryland FFA executive secretary, said the barn was chosen as one of two candidates from the state to go to the national FFA and Campbell for final judging.
“It’s sound and doesn’t need structural improvements, also it’s being used for traditional agricultural operations and the owners of the barn and the operators of the barn include a family that are members of the (FFA) alumni and the son of the family is an active member,” Koerner said.
Faulkner also said community participation is key in the competition and eventual restoration.
“It becomes really a great seed for the community to rally around the project,” Faulkner said. “It’s nice to see barns in Maryland and Michigan … it’s nice to have those stories showcased.”
Lucy Whitehead, program manager for the national FFA alumni association, which, in conjunction with Campbell, chose the 10 competition barns, said Mackenzie’s barn was an easy choice.
“Out of the application pool we were looking for applications that would have a true impact on production agriculture,” Whitehead said.
The company will donate a dollar for every vote on the project’s Web site, helpgrowyoursoup.com/projects.aspx — up to $250,000. That money will be used to restore the five barns.
As far as Mackenzie is concerned, any little bit will help.
“Anything they do would be a big help,” he said. “The main thing is we’re representing Frederick County and Maryland.”
Mackenzie has refrained from doing work on the barn himself because, as he put it, the barn is just smoldering — it’s not on fire yet.
He thinks it would take about $250,000 to rebuild the barn authentically.
For now, the peeling, two-story barn sits mostly empty, except a small mound of baled straw on one side of the upper level. The other side of the upper level is unusable because flooring logs are in desperate need of replacement — the floor sags visibly and Mackenzie said it cannot bear weight.
The bottom level is home to random clutter and three of Mackenzie’s son’s show cows.
The barn was built into the side of a hill, Mackenzie said, so the farmer could walk in at the bottom level to milk cows and drive in at the upper level to store grain.
“This barn could be full to the roof,” he said.
If he could store more grain in the barn, Mackenzie said, he would be able to sell the excess in the winter and improve his cash flow.
“I wish I could make enough money to stay here all the time,” he said. “I just can’t do it now, but maybe someday.”