Joan Hayden first learned about barn quilts at a meeting with the local Flying Geese Quilt Guild in 2016. The guest speaker at the meeting that day was Suzi Parron, an author who writes and speaks about barn quilts.
A barn quilt is pretty much what it sounds like: a painting of a quilt on the side of a barn, often in colorful, geometric patterns.
Hayden, a former Harford teacher of the year, who taught family and consumer sciences at Bel Air High School, said that after that meeting she felt inspired. She’s friends with several local farmers and knows they don’t have huge budgets for advertising. So she got together with Kate Dallum, who owns Broom’s Bloom Dairy in Bel Air, and they started painting barn quilts on the picnic tables at the dairy.
After that, she went to Visit Harford, the county’s tourism bureau, to inquire about starting the Harford County Barn Quilt Trail. Since its inception in 2019, there are now 25 quilts as part of the trail for people to visit.
“The focus of our barn [quilt] trail is agribusiness and the natural parts of Harford County,” Hayden said.
Barns all across the county are a part of the trail, from Steppingstone Farm Museum’s owl quilt in Havre de Grace to the American flag quilt at Duncale Farm in Joppa.
Hayden paints some of the quilts and also works with Visit Harford to help barn owners create their own.
Visiting the many quilts on the trail became a COVID-19 pandemic pastime for many, according to Hayden.
“The beauty of this trail is that it’s outside,” she said. “It’s a great activity to do with your family in your car. You don’t have to worry about being around other people.”
While you’re at one of the farms, Hayden suggests stopping in to see what else they have to offer.
“The farmer is on site when you are there,” she said. “You are meeting the person who was up at 3 a.m. milking the cow. You don’t have to travel any great distance in any direction to get something that is fresh.”
Matthew Scales, executive director of Visit Harford, said the trail isn’t just to bring visitors from outside the county, but also for Harford residents to celebrate their heritage.
“We want folks in the county to take pride in that,” Scales said, “but also, I think, it’s a draw for visitors to come in and kind of shine a light on what makes Harford County special.”
Rockfield Manor, an event venue in Bel Air, added the latest addition to the trail in March – a barn quilt with three layered dodecagrams, or 12-point stars, looking like pinwheels.
“The barn quilts just showcase the history, the heritage, the new and the old, of open land that’s so important to Harford County and its residents,” said Kellee Kalthof, executive director at Rockfield Manor.
Julie Yarrington, owner of Martha’s Farm Market in Street, said its barn quilts give them an edge in terms of an additional sight for people to see.
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“We’ve had a couple of busloads of people come in and shop a little bit,” Yarrington said, “but it’s been pretty rewarding, personally, to just meet people and just talk about agriculture or talk about how the weather is.”
Val Scarborough, owner of Stone View Farm in Darlington, said its quilt hasn’t seen a ton of traffic driven by the barn quilt, but she still likes the compliments she receives for it. She even got one from Hayden herself on a visit.
“That was just coming from one of the best of the best,” Scarborough said.
Hayden said a 26th quilt is in the works; they’re working with a farmer on the design for it.
Hayden has led bus tours to visit several of the stops on the trail.
“I can, in five hours, do a tour with lunch and go to 11 places,” she said, “but I am snapping my fingers.” She recommends people bring coolers in case they want to buy any fresh farm products along the way.
“No matter how big or small,” Hayden said, “I just hope that we’ve got some people out there to see the beauty of these farms and the products that they have to offer – directly from the farmer, directly from the cow.”