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From cows to corn to consignments

Pictured is the hayloft of the John and Cindy Haffner barn near Rose City, which now houses Country Consignments. (Contributed photo)1 / 3
Cindy Haffner is pictured behind the checkout counter at Country Consignments. (Photo by Jo Colvin)2 / 3
The barn on the John and Cindy Haffner farm near Rose City earned honorable mention in the Barn of the Year contest. (Photo by Jo Colvin)3 / 3

If Cindy Haffner hadn't had the flu, she wouldn't be working in a barn.

But it's a really nice barn. In fact, the remodeled farm building recently earned Cindy and her husband, John, honorable mention in the Friends of Minnesota Barns, Barn of the Year Award.

When the Haffners bought their farm near Rose City in 2004, the barn, which was built in 1931, was in fairly good shape. It had once housed dairy cows and pigs. In the 1980s and 90s it was used to store corn. Other than some broken out windows and lots of bird droppings, it was structurally sound.

Cindy wasn't sure what they could use the building for, but she knew she didn't want it to be a junk pile.

"My husband kept hauling in junk, I kept hauling it back out," she said. "I wanted to do something in there."

In 2007 the barn's future purpose came to her when she developed a severe case of the flu. During a fitful sleep, she had a dream.

"I know it sounds corny, but that's how it started," she said. "I had a dream that I was selling stuff in the barn."

As soon as she got better, Cindy started working to make that dream come true. She decided to open a consignment shop in her empty barn.

For weeks, she pressure-washed all the wood and sanded the rough spots. She cleaned the walls and floors, and replaced the glass in the windows and painted the trim around them.

With her mantra of reuse, reduce and recycle, Cindy outfitted the barn with used items. An old freezer covered with fabric serves as the checkout counter. She used old jeans to make curtains and sheets for the dressing room doors.

In 2008, Country Consignments was open for business. The transformation from barn to bargain-hunters boutique was astounding. With several consigners and customers soon on her books, in 2010 Cindy decided to expand up into the cavernous hayloft.

"I pretty much did the whole job backward," Cindy lamented. "I should have started at the top."

The hayloft's floors were covered with a thick white carpet of pigeon poop. She couldn't spray the loft with water, so outfitted in a Hazmat mask and gloves, Cindy used a tiller with a brush attachment to conquer the droppings.

That took her a month. Then she had to varnish the floors in the loft, which took nine gallons. Although she tried to do most of the work herself, she had one area of the roof repaired, a staircase installed, and the floors in the four corners repaired (where the hay would get brushed down to the ground level). A missing floorboard had to be replaced where an auger once transported grain.

Her work was finally complete. The barn was clean from top to bottom. Where once the wood was faded and blemished, the fir and spruce now gleamed a deep richness. Now instead of a gathering place for junk, dust and birds, the barn was solid, sturdy, and brimming with unique wares from more than 300 consigners.

Haffner's work was done, and she had a lot to show for it. So when she saw a story in the Echo Press in July calling for barn owners to be recognized for their refinishing prowess, she thought she would give it a shot.

She sent in the required photographs and explanation of her work. Then she waited.

"We almost thought it was a hoax because there was so little communication," she said.

But a couple weeks later, the Haffners received the notice that their barn would be recognized at a ceremony in Lake Elmo. They had earned honorable mention honors in the non-agricultural adaptive re-use category.

Considering they were up against entrants who had sunk large sums of money into their barns - including chandeliers in the hayloft and rows of antique jukeboxes - they were proud of the honor.

The letter informing them of the award stated, "Every barn has a story to tell and has a special meaning, not only to its owners but to the neighbors, the many people who may have worked on this farm, as well as the people who drive by."

From cows to corn to consignments, the transformation of the Haffner barn continues to tell its story.