On March 9th, 2022, Jeff Corle watched his herd of Guernseys leave in a truck headed towards someone else’s farm.

In 1901 his great grandparents started a dairy farm on the same spot, near the town of Windber, Pennsylvania. They bottled the milk of their Guernseys for fifty-five years, and then later got a bulk tank. Corle farmed the majority of his life with his father and their herd of fifty Holsteins, eventually transitioning to organic.

In 2018 his father passed away, and not long after Jeff sold the cows, thinking himself to be done with milking. However, in 2020 he found himself with a small herd again, this time Guernseys, and bottling his own milk just like his great grandparents.

Corle’s operation, Pleasant View Dairy, had faithful customers that allowed him to expand his new herd, but inflation last year increased his costs and eventually made it impossible to break even. In the winter he made the difficult decision to quit dairying for good.

From 2003 to 2020, 40,000 dairy farms went out of business in the United States. In two decades, the country loss more than half of its operations. Since then, it has only gotten worse, with 2021 seeing another 6% of farms exiting the industry.

Selling one’s cows is a lonely, emotional experience, and in modern times it has become tragically common. Still, there isn’t much conversation about what it feels like to go through something like that.

Jeff Corle said that watching the cows loaded onto the truck “ripped something out of him.” He never knew that physical pain could arise from an emotional issue. He put on a good face with the driver that took his cows, but he felt a pressure on chest that wouldn’t go away. He told this to a songwriter friend in Nashville who he hadn’t talked to in a while, explaining how heartbreaking it was to see the empty barn.

“Empty Barn,” his friend said. “That’s a perfect title for a song.”

In addition to farming, Jeff Corle’s other passion was music. When he finished college in 1989 he told his parents that he was thinking about trying his hand at the country music scene in Nashville. His parents gave him their blessing, saying there was probably a better chance of making a living as a songwriter than there was farming.

Corle enjoyed moderate success as a songwriter, having various songs picked up by music publishers. His first stint in Nashville lasted four years, before returning there again in 1999. He recalls being in a guitar circle once where all the writers passed the instrument and played their latest tune. One writer’s song blew them all away. It was called “The Dance,” and the writer said it was just bought by some young singer named either Garrett or Garth, or something like that.

Corle had various songs recorded by minor artists, but never had the breakthrough of his work being put on an album by a major singer. He eventually found himself burned out on the scene, and, preferring “outlaw country” like that of Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Jonny Cash, was not interested in writing the pop-country songs that labels were seeking. He eventually returned to the farm to work with his father again.

When we talked, Corle explained that there’s an unspoken rule in Nashville. If someone gives you a good title or idea for a song, you have to ask permission to use it, or otherwise allow them to run with it themselves. Jeff asked if his friend if he could use the title “Empty Barn.” His friend had one stipulation.

“Only if you write a kickass song.”

That evening Corle got up in the middle of the night and wrote down the first verse. A few hours later he woke again with the melody of the chorus in his head. Not wanting to lose it, he sang it into his phone. When his alarm went off in the morning he thought he had dreamed his late-night songwriting, but then found the chorus on his Android. He immediately grabbed his guitar and finished the rest of the tune.

Jeff Corle recorded “Empty Barn” in his home studio and posted it on his farm’s Facebook page as a way to say farewell to his customers. He expected to get a few likes and a handful of people downloading it.

Instead, it became viewed over 40,000 times and download over 2,000 times. It turns out, the story of “Empty Barn” resonated with both farmers and nonfarmers alike in a struggling industry. Encouraged by the outpouring of empathy and encouragement, Corle went back to Nashville to record the song in a studio, and then eventually the rest of what would become his album Farm Animal.

Before uploading the studio recording of “Empty Barn” on Youtube, Corle asked on social media for farmers to send in pictures of their life in the barn to use in the music video. He got hundreds of pictures from people touched by his song all around the country.

The video also became a viral hit, with over 100,000 views. Corle said that he cried during the writing of “Empty Barn,” and then cried every time he watched the music video, knowing that many of the people who sent in pictures are now, or may someday, be out of business as well.

Jeff Corle’s song resonates with people because it addresses a type of trauma that probably isn’t talked about enough. Corle continues to try to fill that gap, and not just with his music. Although he had never planned on being a public speaker, he began to be asked to talk at various events regarding his experience of quitting farming and the emotions behind it.

Now he finds himself regularly presenting on the importance of mental health in farming.

Currently Corle is working on music videos for future songs to be released from his album “Farm Animal,” as well as organizing a tour across America. He plans to hold free “barn concerts” for fans and farmers, calling his circuit “Jeff Corle’s Barnstorming Tour of America.”

Currently he is looking for hosts on farms and agricultural related businesses, with a goal of having a tour planned from Pennsylvania to California.

More information about Jeff Corle’s story and his music can be found at jeffcorlemusic.com.