The Former Barn Reborn As a Community Hub

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By Dwell and Debra Jo Immergut / Published by Dwell
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A New England barn is wired to provide power and produce to the community.

In farming, success is all in the balance: between sun and rain, toil and time. At Powisset Farm in Dover, Massachusetts, a 106-acre swath of land that has been cultivated for some three centuries, it’s also about striking the right mix of tradition and technology. Previously owned by Boston Brahmin Amelia Peabody, the farm is now a model of the Community Supported Agriculture movement, provisioning more than 300 member families with fresh fruit and vegetables. In 2014, the land preservation group Trustees of Reservations, which owns Powisset, embarked on a re-novation of its century-old barn, adding a net-positive teaching kitchen and building the lower level into a root cellar. "It was a drafty New England barn with old wood floors, single-pane windows, and doors that didn’t close well," recalls architect Stephanie Horowitz of Boston’s ZeroEnergy Design, the firm hired to reimagine the structure.  


The Powisset barn’s state-of-the-art learning kitchen hosts public classes on everything from jam-making to food security. Its aged floors and ceilings are packed with cellulose insulation. 

The Powisset barn’s state-of-the-art learning kitchen hosts public classes on everything from jam-making to food security. Its aged floors and ceilings are packed with cellulose insulation. 

"We were motivated by the challenge of making energy-efficiency beautiful," says architect Stephanie Horowitz. 

"We were motivated by the challenge of making energy-efficiency beautiful," says architect Stephanie Horowitz. 

On the barn’s main level, ZeroEnergy constructed a super-insulated envelope to house the kitchen. A solar array on the roof powers new HVAC systems and the all-electric appliances. Output can be monitored by the MySolarCity app, and excess energy is sent to the grid. Tucked below, a root cellar contains three climate zones: a cold and moist room for crucifers, a warm and dry one for root vegetables, and, soon to be constructed, a warm and moist space for more tender crops, like tomatoes. A solar-powered AC system maintains the cellar’s natural chill, and a CoolBot device uses sensors to control the AC compressor’s output. The systems are checked each day, but happily for property stewardship manager Mike Francis, they’re largely self-automated. Supplying bounty for the self-serve farm stand, "the cellar has enabled us to extend our mission deep into winter," says Francis, adding that the renovation has transformed the farm "from a seasonal operation to a year-round one, from just a place to get produce to a true community hub."


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