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‘Agrarian Country’ president visits Tyrone business to help advance an agricultural dream

The Star Barn Doing business in Tyrone
Yesterday, Agrarian Country President Dr. Robert Barr visited Tyrone and G&R Excavating and Demolition owner Glenn Ray to seek the purchase of some historic materials and greenhouses owned by Ray to add to Dr. Barr’s Agrarian Country campus and facilities that will be located in south-central Pennsylvania. Dr. Barr was accompanied by his father and Tyrone native, David Barr, who played football for Tyrone High in the late 1930s under coaches George Kavel and the legendary Steve Jacobs. Shown above from left: G&R owner Glenn Ray, Dr. Robert Barr, G&R secretary Pat Wilson, and David Barr. (The Daily Herald/Kris Yaniello)

Yesterday afternoon Dr. Robert S. Barr ventured from his York County home to the community of Tyrone to continue his progress in making an idea of his come to fruition.
Dr. Barr is the president of a nonprofit organization called “Agrarian Country”, which he founded in 2006 and is temporarily located in Middletown, Pennsylvania. It was established for the purpose of preserving Pennsylvania farmland and farm buildings, and to provide a place where people of all ages can visit and/or participate in the operation of numerous agricultural enterprises in a real-life farm setting.
Agrarian Country’s goal is to rekindle interest in America’s agricultural heritage and a self-sufficient way of life, to promote wholesome and healthy living, and provide a refreshing escape from everyday stress. Dr. Barr hopes to do all of this through farmland preservation and hands-on agricultural educational activities.
Dr. Barr is familiar with the Tyrone area. His father, David Barr, who accompanied him on the trip, is originally from Tyrone and now resides in Port Matilda. Dr. Barr still owns land in Halfmoon Valley, where the family’s original homestead and farm is located.
Tyrone has always been part of Dr. Barr’s and his family’s life. With a doctorate in Agricultural Education and School Administration from Penn State University, he has been an educator, author, speaker, publisher, real estate appraiser, and business entrepreneur. He has traveled internationally, and has been responsible for establishing numerous organizations and businesses.
Dr. Barr’s vision of Agrarian Country came from his wanting to preserve and not develop the land he loved in Halfmoon Valley, but his dream quickly grew out of the small area where his family farmed.
“I was interested in the historical perspective,” noted Dr. Barr. “Our agricultural heritage from the time our country was formed was built on an agricultural way of life.”
Agrarian Country is deemed to be the ultimate agricultural educational experience. It will be a campus-type setting with facilities resting on approximately 700 to 1,400 acres located in south-central Pennsylvania. An announcement of its exact location is scheduled for July 1, due to present land acquiring negotiations that Dr. Barr is involved in.
“We realized it needed to be near a four-lane highway and in a tourist attraction center between Lancaster, Gettysburg, and Hershey, where people could get in and out quickly and easily,” noted Dr. Barr.
Agrarian Country will be deeply rooted in historical value, highlighted by Dr. Barr’s recent acquisition of a nineteenth century national historic landmark, “The Star Barn”, which was built in 1872 and is located in Middletown. The Star Barn and its ancillary buildings will be carefully moved piece by piece to the campus’s unannounced location, and then restored. It will serve as Agrarian Country’s “Agricultural Exhibition and Conference Center”, and its restoration will be kicked off by a Barn Raising Festival.
“The Timber Framers Guild of America is going to come in and do a barn raising using 1872 techniques with oxen teams, gin poles, etc.,” said Dr. Barr. “The Barn Raising Festival is going to be a fascinating event with a Civil War reenactment, a food festival, and country-type music entertainment, all taking place during a 10-day period next summer.”
The Star Barn and its ancillary buildings will also be used for housing a Heritage Farm Museum, Farm Toy Museum, and Rural Art Exhibition.
The entire campus will provide a center for agricultural enterprises to promote animal production, plant production (organic and non-organic), and agri-business; a center for agricultural education to promote agricultural awareness and provide facilities for festivals, shows, auctions, dinners, and community theater; and a center for agricultural tourism to explore numerous agricultural enterprises either on a hands-on level or simply by watching.
“By doing all of this we’ll end up with a tourist attraction,” said Dr. Barr. “Add to that over 30 different agricultural enterprises, such as dairy, beef, alpaca, bison, whitetail deer, elk, hogs, poultry, hatchery, all of your animal sciences, then you shift to the horticulture, and each one of these has its own educational center, its own museum, and its own facility.”
He added, “So when you come on campus, it’s like a little Penn State, but it’s all agriculture.”
Agrarian Country will also include around 100 cottages or cabins to provide living space for people and/or families who wish to stay for a few days or vacation for a week or longer.
People who visit the campus will have the opportunity to be a part of the experience either actively or passively. The passive visitor can rent a golf cart and drive around to the different farms to visit and participate in all the activities taking place. If people want to be active, their agricultural interests will be put into a computer program and an activity sheet will be printed out.
If a person is interested in horses and cows, the print out will inform the person of what’s going on where and what time for that specific interest.
“You can be involved in it,” said Dr. Barr, “such as feeding baby calves at the dairy barn, or going to the poultry barn to help round up the turkeys.”
Dr. Barr said that the biggest industry of all the agricultural industries is the horse industry. He plans on creating a Pennsylvania Horse Park that will be patterned after the world’s biggest horse park, the Kentucky Horse Park. The facility would require an additional 300 to 400 acres that would showcase the horse industry with demonstrations, tours, and mock thoroughbred races.
What brought Dr. Barr to Tyrone was his keen interest in building everything at the campus out of historical buildings either torn down, moved, and restored, or simply torn down and salvaging the materials.
“Everything’s going to be made out of historically significant materials,” said Dr. Barr. “That’s one reason why I’m here in Tyrone.”
This is where G&R Excavating and Demolition comes into the picture. Dr. Barr was driving through State College when he noticed the Lowe’s building being dismantled by Glenn Ray’s company. He noticed the aluminum greenhouses still located at the site, and thought they would be a perfect addition to showcase at the Agrarian Country’s Horticulture Center and its botanical gardens.
Dr. Barr wrote down G&R’s phone number from a construction sign and called the business, hoping the greenhouses were for sale. Ray’s secretary, Pat Wilson, received the phone call from Dr. Barr about his interest in purchasing the greenhouses, which were yet to be sold. That conversation led to whether or not G&R dismantled churches.
The reason Dr. Barr asked was due to a donation of a church in Juniata County that he received and wanted to move and restore as a wedding and prayer chapel for Agrarian Country. He asked if G&R would be interested in moving the historic structure and its astounding stained-glass windows.
Wilson said that not only does G&R dismantle churches, but Ray was about to tear down the old Faith United Methodist Church on 13th Street in Altoona. Dr. Barr was asked if he was interested in anything inside or outside of the church.
“I wasn’t originally thinking I need another big church, but maybe I could use the materials to build the Ministry Center or the Faith, Farm, and Family Museum, which is part of the chapel and shows the connection between God and the land,” said Dr. Barr.
This was all the more reason for his journey to Tyrone and seek out Ray at G&R’s home office. The church in Altoona has a 100-year-old pipe organ that Dr. Barr was highly interested in. The pipe organ was donated by the Carnegie family of Pittsburgh, and Dr. Barr would like to be able to move it to his chapel and archive the story of the organ and the church where it came from.
Dr. Barr has a computer technology company and he is currently creating a program for an Agrarian “Hall of Fame” for people, animals, and things in agriculture. People will be able to nominate and provide information about the story of a person, animal, or thing, and document it. He plans, at the Faith, Farm, and Family Museum, to place a large digital screen where people can sit down and search the program.
Dr. Barr spent the day with Ray in Tyrone yesterday to pursue his interests in some of G&R’s materials, as he inches closer to making the Agrarian Country campus a reality.
“I’m here to meet Glenn and understand what kind of things that he does,” said Dr. Barr. “Another thing is the materials, so we’re going to look at the greenhouses and the church, and see if there’s anything we can use.”
“Out of all that, we’ll do deals,” he added.
Ray was overwhelmed by Dr. Barr’s visit and his interest in what G&R does and supplies. He hopes to be involved in some way in The Star Barn raising and its historical techniques that will be used, but he doesn’t want to get in the way.
“I was overwhelmed how they did it in the early parts of time in our country,” said Ray. “They did it with absolutely no machinery and I think it would be a very good learning experience for me – an experience I could never replace.”
Ray knows what it’s like to make nothing into something. He didn’t have a big start with his company, but it has grown by leaps and bounds. That’s why he is so interested in what Dr. Barr is going to do.
“He’s really got something going here,” added Ray. “I think our country has forgot what we do and where we came from, and misguided about where we need to go.”
“I think Dr. Barr’s going to show us where we came from, and show us that it’s not a bad place to start.”