Over a quarter of a century ago, our community held its first craft fair to celebrate the end of the harvest year and to provide a venue to share with our friends and neighbors the crafts, skills, accomplishments and life of our Christian community. Our first fair presented a rough collection of crafts, a couple of food booths, a handful of eager, singing children with guitars, banjos and recorders and drew a few hundred people. It has now grown far beyond our expectations to become an event that draws tens of thousands from across the country and the globe!
Our Christian community, begun 40 years ago as a small inner-city mission in New York City, has dedicated its efforts over the last four decades toward restoring and preserving traditional patterns for family and community living—patterns for homesteading, self-sufficient farming, gardening and home schooling, together with other homestead crafts and practical skills. Homestead Heritage is neither a “living history museum” nor a “reenactment” stage. Quite to the contrary, it is, in the most literal sense, a “real life” effort, established as an actual working farm devoted to recapturing the heritage of community life in a land-based culture.
While dense woods and agricultural fields intersperse over the farm’s 510 acres, the settlement areas take on a traditional rural community form. Family homesteads with gardens, fruit trees, poultry and small animals complement a cluster of distinctive handcraft workshops serving the community’s craftsmen and their apprentices—furniture makers, blacksmiths, potters, weavers and others.
The community farms the land with draft horses—from plowing and disking to seeding, cultivating and harvesting the field crops—using only natural farming methods. The rich river-bottom-land supports fields of corn, hay, sweet sorghum, oats, wheat and sweet potatoes, as well as fruit orchards and individual family vegetable gardens. Year-round, the community’s horses, cattle and sheep pasture on this fertile river-bottom-land, grazing in the open pastures in fall and winter and under the shade of the pecan grove in summer. Dairy cows and milk goats supply milk and cream, which families drink fresh and make into yogurt, butter and (everyone’s favorite summer treat) hand-cranked sorghum pecan ice cream! All through the year, families raise a wide variety of poultry, with chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys waddling and strutting through the yards and underbrush.
The seasonal cycles of agrarian life, a meter not of the community’s design but of a larger one, a given one, provide a mooring and a rhythm for the whole life of the community. The desire for a simpler way of living in harmony with these same patterns of agrarian life has brought people of a vast range of social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds to the community: artists, craftsmen, college lecturers, philosophers, professors, lawyers, accountants, medical professionals, physicists, auto mechanics, law officers and firefighters, seminary instructors, carpenters, landscape architects and city planners, as well as public school administrators and teachers, computer operators, secretaries and more—all who have embraced the nonviolent, Christian life of the community. Down through the years, sinking roots in an ongoing relationship with the land has taught everyone in the community much and given them a new perspective. Whether farming and gardening, preserving food, raising homes and community buildings, doing chores, playing horseshoes, taking walks or swimming in the bordering Brazos River, young and old alike form closer family and community relationships as lives are woven together.
The work of this community is ultimately to craft lives, weaving together people of diverse backgrounds, not into a uniformity but into a unity of vision and purpose—a community—where lives are mutually pledged to serve one another. To this end lives are lived daily at Homestead Heritage in grateful and careful consideration of all that God has given.