Episcopal diocese plans to repurpose 'high-tech' barns housing chickens

Cary Ashby • Oct 2, 2018 at 9:00 AM

WAKEMAN TOWNSHIP — The Episcopal Diocese of Ohio is seeking potential partners in efforts to eventually repurpose the high-tech chicken barns on the Wakeman Township property it recently purchased.

“Last week, thanks to the designated gifts of a group of generous donors, the diocese was able to purchase a 90-acre property across (Ohio) 60 from Bellwether Farm,” said the Rev. Mark Hollingsworth Jr., the bishop of the diocese, in a prepared statement released Monday.

The diocese purchased the property at 4550 Ohio 60, Wakeman, from Wakeman Township resident Byron Dalton for $3.45 million. According to documentation from the Huron County Auditor’s Office, the market value for the land is $572,730 and the buildings are worth $784,670. Dalton declined to be interviewed.

“Some of you will remember that this tract of land includes six high-tech barns in which currently are (housing) close to 80,000 chickens. This purchase allows us to repurpose the barns for educational and resource-conserving food production, as well as other uses, relieving Bellwether, our neighbors and the village of Wakeman of the environmental impact of the current poultry operation,” Hollingsworth said.

The property purchased from Dalton is located south and east of Bellwether Farm, across Ohio 60. The farm, which focuses on “sustainable agriculture” and land stewardship, includes a farm house, two maintenance buildings, 15 summer camp cabins, 40 overnight rooms, a worship barn and a main building. 

In 2015, the diocese bought 140 acres from a family of former farmers to transform the area at 4655 Ohio 60, Wakeman, into a $7 million camp, retreat and education center. Construction for Bellwether Farm started about late spring 2017. 

The Reflector had a guided tour of Bellwether Farm with EHOVE Career Center representatives in November. Construction tech students helped build the farm house out of insulated concrete forms (ICF), which resemble long, thin LEGO blocks. Concrete is poured into the ICFs, making the parcels the foundation and insulation for the home.

The bishop, in his statement, addressed plans for the new property in broad strokes.

“Over the last few months, in anticipation of this opportunity, we have been working with potential partners who have expressed interest in using the buildings for a variety of purposes. It will take nine months for the chickens to complete their laying cycle and be removed. This will give us ample time to continue developing these collaborative partnerships for the conversion and self-sustainable repurposing of the buildings, as well as to determine the agricultural strategy for the majority of the land. We look forward to keeping you informed as this project progresses,” Hollingsworth said.

Wakeman Township trustee Chris Hilaman told the Reflector last week he had heard “a lot of rumors” about the property, with the last one being that “the deal fell through.” On Monday, he said he recently talked to the farm manager, who said “he didn’t know anything about it.” 

Hilaman said from his perspective, it seems while the sale of the property has become public, any use of it is being kept under wraps.

Diocese spokeswoman Jessica Rocha said it’s not accurate to say the diocese will continue to have chickens in the barns. She declined to elaborate on the variety of uses for the property. 

Wakeman Mayor Chris Hipp couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

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