A year after devastating fire, Horn Farm Center continues to rebuild

Horn Farm Center employees continue to operate out of office-converted trailers after a fire devastated the organization’s historical farmhouse a year ago.

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Horn Farm Center employees are still operating out of office-converted trailers after a fire devastated the organization’s historical farmhouse a year ago.

The center's rebuilding efforts continue.

“It was a bit of a jolt to the system,” said Executive Director Alexis Campbell. “During that time we were really humbled by the community support we had. We wanted to carry out our mission despite these challenges.” 

Alexis Campbell, executive director of Horn Farm Center, poses for a photo on Oct. 3, 2022. Tina Locurto photo.

Horn Farm Center is an educational nonprofit focused on regenerative agriculture and ecological education. It offers a wide range of classes on everything from composting and gardening to survival skills, such as how to forage for food and create a fire without matches.

The organization’s farmhouse was struck by lightning last October, completely wiping out the third-floor attic and destroying its office spaces.

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While the first few months after the blaze were all about assessing damage and stabilizing the existing building, Horn Farm Center is moving into the next phase of rebuilding now.

Farm manager Andrew Horn (left) and woodland steward Wilson Alvarez (right) harvest sweet potatoes at Horn Farm Center on Oct. 3, 2022. Tina Locurto photo.

“We looked at this tragic incident, which was very challenging for us, as an opportunity to improve our facilities and get something even better than before,” Campbell said. 

Prior to the fire, Horn Farm Center was finalizing a strategic plan that included addressing facility space at the site.

Though the farmhouse fire was an unforeseeable event that threw a wrench into the organization’s original plans, Campbell was determined not to let the incident stop their work. The center still hosts a variety of classes on the 186-acre farm.

Andrew Leahy, community engagement coordinator for Horn Farm Center, works inside a converted office trailer on Oct. 3, 2022. Tina Locurto photo.

In the months since the fire, the center has brought on five new board members and aims to hire five new employees.

Among many goals on the agenda, Campbell said, organization members hope to increase indoor classroom space and rebuild the farmhouse with sustainability goals in mind.

“We have green energy goals, which means producing more water and energy than we are using,” she added. “It took us a little while to get those ideas together and understand our goals.” 

Wilson Alvarez, woodland steward for Horn Farm Center, harvests a batch of sweet potatoes on Oct. 3, 2022. Tina Locurto photo.

For its rebuilding project, Horn Farm Center hired the architectural firm Murphy & Dittenhafer to draw up plans, Lewis Contractor for pre-construction and the Seven Group as a green energy consultant. The actual cost of rebuilding is still to be determined, Campbell said, and the nonprofit will have a better sense once the design phase is completed.

The finished project won't simply return the center to its former glory. Instead, she said, the goal is to increase the programs that the farm offers to the public.

 “I think I'm most excited about increasing the impact we can have on our community," she said.

In September, the organization hosted its annual pawpaw fest — celebrating the native fruit that grows along creeks throughout the region — which was a successful fundraising event to help cover costs for the rebuild.

Individuals interested in donating to help rebuild Horn Farm Center can do so by visiting hornfarmcenter.org/donate.

“We’ve been kind of working on all of those things at once,” Campbell said. “And we’re all really excited for the future of our organization.”

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Heading into winter, the center will focus heavily on the design process of the rebuilding project.

Right now, Campbell said, the hope is to break ground next spring.

"I think through this process we learned how much the community values Horn Farm, so we see an obligation to give back and provide what it is our mission is about,” Campbell said. “It's been really inspiring to me to see how much the community supports us and where the future can take us.”

To learn more about Horn Farm Center and its programs, visit https://hornfarmcenter.org/.