As soon as you drive onto the gravel parking lot at the Homestead Heritage Traditional Crafts Village and step out of your vehicle, a sense of peace envelops you. About 45 miles north of Temple and a little west of Elm Mott, The Homestead is a self-sustaining agrarian community centered on church and family. Home to 1,000 residents who practice a traditional lifestyle, they are masters at heirloom artisan crafts and organic homesteading. Open to the public, Homestead Heritage is an educational, life-affirming day trip for children of all ages. This is not a reenactment or living history community, however, but a community where history lives.

The Barn gift shop, the Potter’s House, the Heritage Woodworking School, and the Café Homestead are all within immediate view. Enjoy an organic, made-from-scratch meal at the café before beginning your self-guided tour of the grounds. Additional buildings house the blacksmith’s forge, fiber crafts barn, granary, gristmill, cheese shop and general store, all in walking distance and worth the extra steps. Visitors to the Homestead may come for the organic, homegrown and prepared-from-scratch meals, but they stay to shop for artisan crafts ranging from homemade soaps and linens, to hand-thrown pottery, wrought iron designs, handmade furniture, and homemade artisan cheeses, including their own creation, Van Sormon cheese.

“That cheese was actually an accident,” quipped Josiah Wheeler, manager of the artisan craft shops, choir director and director of the upcoming Homestead Fair this Thanksgiving weekend.

Open year-round, guided tours are available for groups of 10 or more with advance notice. Classes in homesteading, farming and heirloom crafts are also available throughout the year and draw people from around the country and sometimes, the globe.

“People desire to learn how to live more sustainable,” Wheeler said.

A little history

The community was founded in 1970s New York by a small group of people determined to live a more balanced and sustainable lifestyle. They moved their families to the western slopes of Colorado to form the first community. They wanted to live a life on their terms and in accordance with their Christian beliefs. However, it wasn’t their intention to be remote, and they found the Colorado community to be too isolating.

“My parents’ generation wanted to go back to the land, to learn how to do things for themselves,” said Josiah Wheeler, “They didn’t want to be spoon fed, but they saw something unsustainable in the global culture. They weren’t alarmists, but positive thinkers who wanted to take things back into their own hands and learn these agricultural skills.”

Many members were originally from the Austin area, so they decided to return to Central Texas in the late 1980s. But something was missing. “We didn’t have a church building,” said Wheeler, adding, “When someone in Waco gave us a church, we started looking for property.”

In 1990, they purchased 310 acres of land that bordered the Brazos River and called their farm Brazos de Dios (the Arms of God). As the families settled on their new land, more and more people came to join the agrarian community to truly live off the earth. First a visitors’ center that included a small café was built. But materials were needed to create the log structure befitting an organic restaurant.

“There was a farmer in Mexia who had 40 acres of cedar trees that needed to be clear-cut for pasture land,” said Wheeler, who was 16 when he moved to the area with his family. “He said if we wanted to cut down the trees, then we could have the wood.”

The men of Brazos de Dios cleared the land and using their own sawmill, created the hand-hewn logs to build the café.

Today, the community has grown to 510 acres and a community of families whose lives center around church, family and clean sustainable living. Wheeler, who is the father of eight, said children are home-schooled, participate in family and learn the heirloom skills of fiber crafts, woodworking, blacksmithing, milling, cooking, baking and working the land like the early settlers with horses or mules, and plows. Children choose the craft of their choice and can become master blacksmiths, potters, weavers, cheese makers or wood workers by the time they are 19 or 20 years old.

“Our life is not so fragmented,” Wheeler said. “Our community is surrounded by culture, church, school and family life. It’s different, but not really.”

Wheeler said their community is not isolated from the outside world and in fact, he just came back from a trip to China where he was looking to import fine teas. His wife still has to occasionally shop at Wal-Mart and go to the grocery store. Cellphones and computers are used for business purposes, but there is no Internet or televisions in the homes. Their goal is live in a place where their families could thrive.

In 1998, they sold the church in town and built their own mission-style church from the ground up on their land. The church is a testimony to their faith with its handmade wrought iron chandeliers, woodwork, windows and doors and can seat up to 1,700 attendees.

The Grist Mill

One of the first things you notice when walking into the grist mill is the sweet smell of the home-ground wheat being crushed between two 600-pound grist mill stones. A water wheel churns the grist mill that converts the homegrown wheat into flour. The mill also grinds corn and spices in addition to wheat. The mill is a 1760 structure that was found in New Jersey. Its hand-hewn timbers are held together by long pegs and were dismantled piece by piece 10 years ago and relocated to Homestead Heritage. The mill’s shop offers a selection of items ranging from sweet potato pumpkin mix, cranberry pancake mix, honey, grits and spices.

Fiber Crafts Weaving and Spinning

Inside the fiber crafts barn master weaver Yohanna Klingensmith sits at a modified spinning wheel made with a bicycle tire. Much of the yarn or thread she spins is from the community’s sheep, flax plants or cotton plants and colored with natural minerals. Because of the amount of inventory they must keep, Klingensmith said some of the threads and yarns on sale in the shop are purchased from vendors who practice natural processing. Classes are available from beginning to advanced spinning, knitting and weaving.

The Potters House

Inside the potter’s house, women are busy creating everything from cups and saucers to vases and lamps to sell in their store, at the upcoming fair and for commercial clients. Classes are available and Jenni Fritzlan, a master potter, demonstrated how to spin a block of clay at the wheel into a proportionately formed vase.

She uses her foot to spin the wheel and opened up the clay with her hands. “We use native Texas clay from East Texas, which is a high-fired stoneware clay,” she explained as she continued spinning and forming the vase.

Once the pottery is formed, it undergoes a glaze of three different colors created from natural minerals. The next step is the firing in the outside brick kiln. To access the oven, Fritzlan must remove the wall of bricks, one by one. After placing the newly glazed pottery inside the kiln, the bricks are replaced, one by one. It takes 10-12 hours to stoke the kiln to get it to the needed 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the pottery is baked, it may take several days before it cools down enough to remove the finished product.

The Barn: Gifts and Fine Furniture

This 200-year-old barn was found in New Jersey, dismantled and rebuilt on the property. Except for some modern updates, such as electricity, it is original from the beams to the threshing floor and large double barn doors on either side.

The barn is the place to shop for everything from hand-woven linen dish towels to furniture built by the master craftsmen of the village.

There is pottery, quilts, infant clothing, wooden utensils, hand-forged creations, honey from their own beehives, pancake mixes, cornmeal, grits and flour from their grist mill, homemade jams and jellies, homemade soaps and selected books.

Homestead Café

Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays

Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The café’s interior offers a rustic ambiance that blends with the natural environment. Menu choices range from breakfast feasts to lunch creations. All their breads and rolls are made from their own wheat stone ground in the grist mill.

Their popular old-fashioned cheeseburger comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and cheddar on a toasted bun, with a side of French fries or sweet potato fries. An alternative would be their Cuban Burger, made with turkey ham, grilled onion medallion, provolone, American cheese, sweet-fire pickles and honey Serrano sauce. Side with your choice of fries.

For dessert, try a home-baked treat or indulge in the rich, organic, homemade ice cream. Saturdays are the busiest time and Josiah Wheeler said it’s best to arrive by 11:30 a.m. or after 2 p.m. “Because the place gets packed, we take phone numbers and let people walk around and call them when their table is ready.”

Heritage Woodworking School

At this workshop, students are taught the art of making furniture by hand. Master craftsman Mark Borman, who was teaching a class on Joinery: Working with hand tools, waited for his students to return from lunch. During the break, he demonstrated how to make a dovetail joint for his visitors.

“All the furniture we make use dovetail joints, no nails or screws are used. Depending on the item, some wood glue could be used,” he said, adding that the first essential thing to teach is how to sharpen tools.

With a voice as melodic as the tools he was using, Borman, who has been building custom furniture for 20 years, said he can tell “when I’m close to finishing a dovetail by the sound of the tool against the wood. You get used to the sound and it tells you if something isn’t right.”

Nearing the end of his cut, he listened carefully to the singing of the saw. As the saw reached a lower pitch, he knew he was close to finishing.

Heritage Forge Blacksmith Shop

Caleb Nolen was busy shaping and sanding ax handles for the new steel ax heads he made. ”I studied two years ago in Sweden to learn how to make axes,” he said as he put down his tools.

Slowly he walked over to the forge and fired it up. He stoked the fire to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit and demonstrated how he works with steel to create wrought iron designs made from raw materials.

He inserted a long rod into the flames, never missing a beat in his recitation or losing his smile. After the steel was heated to red hot, he pounded the end of the rod into the shape of a flat head nail. With a clang, clang, clang of the mallet against the anvil, he cut off the end and shaped the piece of iron into a point and flattened out the head. This demonstration of a steel nail fades in comparison to the wrought iron sculptures he creates that become chandeliers, railings, fireplace tools, beds, and more.

Homestead Heritage Fair

This Thanksgiving weekend after the last bit of turkey has been put away, frozen or consumed, take a break from the holiday tradition and head to the Homestead Heritage annual Homestead Fair. Celebrate the end of the Harvest by learning about artisan fine crafts, heirloom skills and what it means to live a truly sustainable life in the 21st Century of technological interruptions that create more life imbalance then balance.

Nov. 28-30, Homestead Heritage welcomes the world to their annual fair from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. More than 15,000 people are expected to celebrate the end of the harvest. At the fair, children of all ages can learn about the every day events on a living farm with hands-on activities from making crafts and bread to blacksmithing and woodworking, just a few of the events visitors can experience that community members do every day to sustain their lives at the Homestead.

Events include traditional craft demonstrations, a working 1750s grist mill, horse farming, horse-drawn hayrides, an old-fashioned barn raising and a farm animal petting pen. Homesteading displays include cow and goat milking, cheese making, sheep dog herding, beekeeping, organic gardening and raising poultry.

Make-Your-Own-Craft activities for Children of All Ages include toy boats, candle dipping, pottery, soap balls, leatherwork, woodwork, basketry, weaving, hand sewing, watercolor, and pretzel making.

Homesteading seminars include sustainable gardening, backyard chickens, rainwater collection, food preservation, beekeeping, cheese making.

Music will be provided by the children’s choirs each afternoon and the Heritage Choir and Orchestra on Friday and Saturday evening. (Information courtesy of Homestead Heritage.)

Food Court

Be prepared for an above average fair food court. All the foods are prepared from scratch in the Homestead Farms kitchen using fresh, wholesome ingredients, including whole grains ground in their own grist mill and all-natural chicken and grass-fed beef. Admission to the event is free. There is a $10 charge for parking or $7 if purchased online beforehand.

For more information and directions, visit www.homesteadfair.com.

As soon as you drive onto the gravel parking lot at the Homestead Heritage Traditional Crafts Village and step out of your vehicle, a sense of peace envelops you. About 45 miles north of Temple and a little west of Elm Mott, The Homestead is a self-sustaining agrarian community centered on church and family. Home to 1,000 residents who practice a traditional lifestyle, they are masters at heirloom artisan crafts and organic homesteading. Open to the public, Homestead Heritage is an educational, life-affirming day trip for children of all ages. This is not a reenactment or living history community, however, but a community where history lives.

The Barn gift shop, the Potter’s House, the Heritage Woodworking School, and the Café Homestead are all within immediate view. Enjoy an organic, made-from-scratch meal at the café before beginning your self-guided tour of the grounds. Additional buildings house the blacksmith’s forge, fiber crafts barn, granary, gristmill, cheese shop and general store, all in walking distance and worth the extra steps. Visitors to the Homestead may come for the organic, homegrown and prepared-from-scratch meals, but they stay to shop for artisan crafts ranging from homemade soaps and linens, to hand-thrown pottery, wrought iron designs, handmade furniture, and homemade artisan cheeses, including their own creation, Van Sormon cheese.

“That cheese was actually an accident,” quipped Josiah Wheeler, manager of the artisan craft shops, choir director and director of the upcoming Homestead Fair this Thanksgiving weekend.

Open year-round, guided tours are available for groups of 10 or more with advance notice. Classes in homesteading, farming and heirloom crafts are also available throughout the year and draw people from around the country and sometimes, the globe.

“People desire to learn how to live more sustainable,” Wheeler said.

A little history

The community was founded in 1970s New York by a small group of people determined to live a more balanced and sustainable lifestyle. They moved their families to the western slopes of Colorado to form the first community. They wanted to live a life on their terms and in accordance with their Christian beliefs. However, it wasn’t their intention to be remote, and they found the Colorado community to be too isolating.

“My parents’ generation wanted to go back to the land, to learn how to do things for themselves,” said Josiah Wheeler, “They didn’t want to be spoon fed, but they saw something unsustainable in the global culture. They weren’t alarmists, but positive thinkers who wanted to take things back into their own hands and learn these agricultural skills.”

Many members were originally from the Austin area, so they decided to return to Central Texas in the late 1980s. But something was missing. “We didn’t have a church building,” said Wheeler, adding, “When someone in Waco gave us a church, we started looking for property.”

In 1990, they purchased 310 acres of land that bordered the Brazos River and called their farm Brazos de Dios (the Arms of God). As the families settled on their new land, more and more people came to join the agrarian community to truly live off the earth. First a visitors’ center that included a small café was built. But materials were needed to create the log structure befitting an organic restaurant.

“There was a farmer in Mexia who had 40 acres of cedar trees that needed to be clear-cut for pasture land,” said Wheeler, who was 16 when he moved to the area with his family. “He said if we wanted to cut down the trees, then we could have the wood.”

The men of Brazos de Dios cleared the land and using their own sawmill, created the hand-hewn logs to build the café.

Today, the community has grown to 510 acres and a community of families whose lives center around church, family and clean sustainable living. Wheeler, who is the father of eight, said children are home-schooled, participate in family and learn the heirloom skills of fiber crafts, woodworking, blacksmithing, milling, cooking, baking and working the land like the early settlers with horses or mules, and plows. Children choose the craft of their choice and can become master blacksmiths, potters, weavers, cheese makers or wood workers by the time they are 19 or 20 years old.

“Our life is not so fragmented,” Wheeler said. “Our community is surrounded by culture, church, school and family life. It’s different, but not really.”

Wheeler said their community is not isolated from the outside world and in fact, he just came back from a trip to China where he was looking to import fine teas. His wife still has to occasionally shop at Wal-Mart and go to the grocery store. Cellphones and computers are used for business purposes, but there is no Internet or televisions in the homes. Their goal is live in a place where their families could thrive.

In 1998, they sold the church in town and built their own mission-style church from the ground up on their land. The church is a testimony to their faith with its handmade wrought iron chandeliers, woodwork, windows and doors and can seat up to 1,700 attendees.

Explore Homestead Heritage Traditional Crafts Village

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