Whether visiting a local farm or traveling down a country road admiring the scenery, we all have participated in agritourism. In recent years, with the rise of the slow food movement and the lagging economy, more people are looking to the past to carve a path to the future and for adventures closer to home.
I found myself traveling that path when I moved to a large rural farm a year and a half ago. My search for an agriculture educational crash course led me to the gates of Homestead Heritage, a 510-acre Christian agrarian community along the banks of the beautiful Brazos River near Elm Mott, Texas. I was in search of a canning and preserving class after a bountiful heirloom summer garden growing season, but what I found was so much more.
Homestead Heritage is a working farm that annually attracts more than 40,000 people through various programs: a school of homesteading, a school of woodworking, a traditional crafts village, a handworked furniture company, organic gardens, orchards and livestock, a general store, and the famous Homestead Farms Deli & Bakery serving fresh-baked bread, fresh butter, grassfed beef, artisan cheeses, homemade ice cream and other treats from the farm.
Homestead Heritage hosts several festivals throughout the year including the Sorghum Festival (Labor Day) and its largest festival, the Thanksgiving Craft and Children’s Fair (Friday, Saturday and part of Sunday of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend). Both events are free with a nominal parking fee.
The Thanksgiving Children’s and Craft Festival began in 1988 showcasing children’s, craftsmen and women’s yearlong projects, much like a county fair. Over the years, it has blossomed into an agritourism event attracting more than 14,000 visitors. Families come from all over the country to see traditional American farm life come alive. According to Butch Tindell, full-time resident of the community, this isn’t just a living history museum, it’s a way of life. Authenticity is thick in the air as participants and demonstrators are everyday people from the Homestead Heritage community sharing their talents.
During the festival, visitors can meander through the farm admiring the 1760s New Jersey barn, an 1830s Missouri cabin, an 1860s New York smokehouse and a 1760s operational gristmill, all relocated and restored by craftsmen and operating now. As visitors walk back in time, they see such diverse demonstrations as woodworking with hand tools, draft-horse farming, spinning and weaving, cheese making, leather work, gardening, beekeeping, apple pressing, and the popular sheepdog herding event. Children participate in hands-on activities and learn the art and fun of crafting beeswax candles, felting, soap-ball making, and even shaping wood utensils and toy sailboats.
What’s a Thanksgiving Festival without food? At Homestead Heritage, taste buds are the big winners, since all festival fare is grown and prepared on the property. Old and new favorites include: grassfed-beef-sausage-on-a-stick, organic maple pecan ice cream, brick-oven whole-wheat baked bread, kettle corn and unique apple cider donuts baked fresh all day. For an international appetite, sample organic grilled chicken gorditas, tamales, falafels and the freshest pizza this side of Naples.
Visitors can even lend a hand as craftsmen raise a historic barn frame showcasing traditional hand methods while enjoying traditional music and song. The barn raising takes place on both Friday and Saturday. This year, the beautiful Greenville barn frame will be auctioned off by sealed bid Saturday evening. The historic 1840s hand-hewn, hemlock timber frame originally stood in the Catskill Mountains of New York, before being shipped to Homestead Heritage to be expertly refurbished by on-site craftsmen. The sealed bid winner receives posts, beams, rafters and the standing of the timber frame on their own property.
The roots of the Center for Essential Education, School of Homesteading grew from public interest as visitors wanted to learn more after seeing the demonstrations at the festival. Nothing compares to hands-on, interactive learning on a working farm with expert craftspeople giving small-group and one-on-one instruction. The school offers a variety of workshops and seminars including soft and hard cheese making, spinning, beekeeping, blacksmithing, gardening, orchard growing, baking, canning, poultry, horse farming, goat raising, soap making, weaving, pottery, and woodworking with hand tools.
Homestead Heritage has something for everyone whether one stops in for lunch, shops in the exquisite village for handcrafted items, visits for the day or participates in the one- to three-day workshops.Homestead Heritage is open year-round, Monday through Saturday. For more information, visit the website at www.HomesteadHeritage.com, or call 254-754-9600.