Painted hay bales

The O’Loughlin farm boasts painted pictures on hay bales displayed along Valley View Road.

The O’Loughlin farm in Shakopee is doing something we could all use right now—providing a free and creative way to make us smile. O’Loughlin family members painted engaging pictures on gigantic hay bales, then displayed the bales along Valley View Road for people to see and take pictures with.

“We’re all about people enjoying them. It makes us happy when we see they make people happy. It brings us joy. That’s why we did it,” said Janni Hennes, whose maiden name is O’Loughlin and along with her three siblings, Tim O’Loughlin, Steve O’Loughlin, and Amy Sullivan, grew up on the farm. “The fun part for us is the kids who stop by and pick their favorite bale and get photos in front of that one.”

The idea originated 25 years ago when the family painted a single bale to entertain the grandkids and kept the bale by the house. By 2001, the project had morphed into something much bigger. Each grandkid of Hennes’ parents, John and Maryann O’Loughlin, painted their own bale, which were then placed along the road for public viewing. They’ve been painting bales and putting them on display almost every year since.

“It’s remarkable how primitive they used to look compared to what we have now,” Hennes said.

Each of John and Maryann O’Loughlin’s 11 artistic grandchildren decorate a round bale of their own. This year, there are two smaller round bales for the great granddaughters.

“It’s a fun project and now a tradition,” she said. “Everything is positive about it.”

This year’s bales include a ghostbuster, an upside down witch, Yoda, and for the first time, an animal. Four bales are painted to look like a dairy cow. The two Farmer John bales in the center of the display are for Hennes’ father, who was affectionally known by that name when he gave farm tours to SACS students for more than 30 years.

“The kids knew him as Farmer John,” Hennes said. “He passed away unexpectedly six years ago, and we decided to make him the centerpiece going forward.”

Because grandkids were home for college break in September, the bales were spray painted a little earlier in the harvest season than previous years. Each person comes up with his or her idea for a bale, then Hennes’ sister buys the paint supplies. Amazingly, the grandkids are able to paint the impressive images in only two hours.

Someone suggested that the family paint a mask on a bale to represent the year 2020. The O’Loughlin family declined because they didn’t want an image with negative connotations.

“We need happiness in this world,” Hennes said. “We vetoed a mask because that would just bring people down. We opted for happy images.”

Unbeknownst to me when I first saw the bales and wanted to write about them, Hennes and I have friends in common. I learned that at one time, when Hennes was in high school, the O’Loughlin farm was considered “out in the country” and known for something besides grain and livestock. “We did have the best farm parties,” Hennes confirmed with a sly laugh.

The farm has 80 acres along Valley View, with a bustling neighborhood on the other side of the road, and a total of about 4,400 acres. The O’Loughlins grow corn, soybeans, oats, wheat, and alfalfa in addition to milking about 250 Holstein cows.

The family has a rich history in Shakopee. Dennis and Margaret O’Loughlin, Hennes’ ancestors, settled the farm in 1856, which consisted of 162 acres and four cows. When Dennis left to fight in the Civil War, Margaret ran the farm while raising their nine children. Over the decades, the farm grew while staying in the family. Today Hennes’ brothers run the farm. The painted hay bales now have their own history.

“My sister gets texts asking, ‘When are the hay bales going up?’” Hennes said. “People look forward to seeing them every year. The feedback we get is really positive.”

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