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One of the beautiful things about the climate of Cape May is that it is always changing. On summer days, the sand on the beach is barely visible amid the crowds of visitors looking to cool off in the salty Atlantic. On crisp mornings in the fall you may find fishermen dotting the shoreline, baiting hooks just before sunrise. When the blustery winds of winter roll down Beach Avenue, after breathtaking sunsets visitors and locals gather together by the warm hearths of establishments that stay open year-round. Before you know it- its Memorial Day once again.
This fall, the change in season is especially evident on Stevens Street in West Cape May. The crops at Beach Plum Farm are constantly rotating; starting from seedlings, planted in the ground, and harvested on a daily basis to feed The Blue Pig Tavern, The Ebbitt Room, Rusty Nail, and now, Louisa’s. Those who have been venturing out to the farm throughout the summer have witnessed a new type of growth- one that is 46 feet tall. On May 26th a timber frame was raised as one of the first steps in the construction of a brand new barn and home of the new farm stand.
The frame was erected by Riehl’s Construction Company, a business that is owned and operated by an Amish family in Lancaster, PA. A member of the company, John, spoke to some of the ins and outs of the barn that was raised this summer. This building consists of a timber frame; which refers to the structure of the edifice itself. The frame is made out of Hemlock fir trees and is cut to fit together using mortise and tenon joinery. The sections are raised, interlock, and are secured together using a wooden peg (think Lincoln Logs, but bigger). There are hundreds of these joints that hold the structure together, which is 46 feet high by 30 feet wide, with a 10-foot lean-to. The frame itself was raised in one day, but the members of Riehl’s were out at the farm for approximately three weeks, putting significant touches on the frame, such as the siding.
The beams are made of Hemlock wood from upstate Pennsylvania. The boards are White Pine, and the exterior is made of Cyprus from North Carolina. Riehl’s typically constructs thirty to forty barns every year, most of them within an hour’s driving distance of Lancaster. By today’s standards, their business model is anything but conventional. As an Amish family, they do not do any work on a computer, nor do they have an email address. Riehl’s conducts most of their business via phone and fax machine, and a member of the company who is not Amish does the driving from location to location. The company consists of fourteen men, eight of which travelled to Cape May to work on this particular project. One would think that the building a barn in a form that is now considered “unconventional” would pose several challenges. However, when asked what was some of the adversity that they faced, the men collectively responded “Rain, mosquitos, and Curtis feeding us too much at night.” Curtis Bashaw, Co-Managing Partner of Cape Resorts, would often times treat the men to meals at the Blue Pig Tavern after a long day spent on the farm.
Those who attend Beach Plum Farm’s Fall Festival this October will have the opportunity to explore the new barn and farm stand, which is now insulated and ready to serve visitors in the cooler months of the year. It will be a meeting place for children wishing to take part in the “Farm-to-Kids” program- a hands on learning experience about farm life. The farm stand is currently open weekends, providing the community with fresh produce, eggs, and honey. The barn is new, but its very existence is rooted in a tradition of construction that is now considered rare and artistic, from a bygone era. It serves as a reminder of all that is simple and pure, yet ever evolving.