We’ve been asked a couple times “so, how did the farm thing go?” and I realized that while Miranda had blogged about her view on it I didn’t do a good re-cap from the “parent perspective”. No, we aren’t “not mentioning the farm” because something bad happened there. Quite the opposite really. Overall I don’t think it could have gone any better.
Mark and Nancy were great. Mark is what I call a “connector”. His long residency in this area, his involvement in his church, and his long-running construction business mean he knows just about everyone in the area.
Add to that his friendly, articulate manner with ultra-dry sense of humor, and his skill at marrying up tasks with interests and people and the result is we were quickly and intelligently introduced and connected within days of arriving at the farm.
Nancy professes to be “not a people person” but we disagree. She is the no-nonsense, tell it like it is and get it done type person we like being around. We appreciated her knowlege of ranching, animals and healthy cooking.
Utopia Texas is about an hour west of San Antonio in the last vestiges of Texas Hill Country.Travel much further down the road and Texas flattens out and begins reaching for New Mexico.
Utopia was big enough to have a single gas station, a small grocery store, a nice ranch store, a few antique shops, and seven churches. The biggest drawback of the location was it being 55 miles from decent grocery shopping and supplies in Kerrville.
We quickly adopted the habit of most locals, choosing one day a week to load big coolers in the truck and taking most of that day to make the drive and resupply ourselves. Having the extra fridge and freezer space was key.
We really enjoyed the rolling hills, the ever-present wildlife, the quiet, and the dark. The stars were brilliant at night - I saw colored stars for the first time.
The people were very friendly and accommodating - I’m not sure if it’s from watching too many bad movies but I didn’t expect to be welcomed quite that well as an outsider.
Utopia is in a Verizon dead spot, so our aircard was useless. While I could monitor email on my AT&T phone, we quickly had to figure out a better approach to getting online for our paid work.
The easiest solution was to have DSL run into the apartment behind our RV spot and grab it using our Wifi Ranger setup. We put our Millenicom plan on hold for a month and enjoyed the unlimited data that we used to take for granted.
Our Family Work
We did a variety of chores around the farm in exchange for our site, access to whatever we wanted from the garden, and the use of a washing machine and fridge/freezer in the barn apartment behind our RV spot:
- Cleaned that apartment out
- Replaced sink fixtures
- Purged it of the stuff that grows in unused spaces when you aren’t looking
- Cleaned out horse stalls
- Organized PVC inventory
- Organized shop spaces
- Cleaned horse paddocks
- Recovered the garden from last year
- Began some planting for the new year
We kept rough track of our hours and calculate that we worked about 20 hrs/wk collectively in exchange for our spot and privileges.
This was less than we had proposed initially and there were times when we felt like we weren’t pulling our weight. Weather was a factor - it was a cold winter and there were days where planned work just got put off.
We learned that the type of work available can influence the hours we can provide. Because we weren’t in harvest season there weren’t many jobs that we could get 1/2 hour of instruction on and then be able to do that job for several hours a week.
What we had instead was a lot of smaller project work, where we’d have instruction time and then only a couple hours of work before needing to repeat the process.
Camphosting or Workamping?
We enjoyed this type of “workkamping” experience over the camp-hosting that we’ve done in the past - mainly this was due to not being on a strict schedule.
Once we had discussed the particulars of a project with Mark and Nancy we could largely do the work when we wanted to.
This was a big improvement over being handed a schedule for the volunteer work and having it dictate when our client work and personal time could happen.
Miranda seems to keep scoring from these workamping experiments. Last year she self-sourced what turned into a Junior Ranger apprenticeship in Arizona culminating in her presenting an entire nature walk to campground visitors.
This year it was learning about horses.
She has a rough bucket list and on it was “learning to ride” - and most definitely NOT the experience to be gained by signing up for a trailride in a National Park setting. She wanted to learn to saddle the horse, to do the riding, and do the post-ride tack work and cleanup.
She did all that and more. Both Mark and Nancy worked with her, but it was Nancy especially that Miranda connected with during our stay.
Miranda was willing to do the hard work of mucking out the paddocks and for that she was rewarded with a lot of one on one training and time with Remy, Wings, Upbeat and Jack.
We connected Miranda with Carolyn - a neighbor and friend of our hosts. Carolyn lived just a couple miles up the road and was incredibly generous with her time, instruction and use of her more approachable horse.
We also found Miranda some riding time at a local youth camp that owns over 60 horses. April was our contact there and she also pitched in to help Miranda with her horsing knowledge.
Add dogs and cats into the mix and Miranda was really happy in this location. I’d catch glimpse of her moving about on the farm, touching the animals and talking to them, and feel like I was seeing a bit of who she will be.
One of the main goals for this engagement was to give Harrison a chance to work and earn money.
Mark generously offered to hire Harrison while we were here. On work days Harrison could walk up and catch a ride with Mark and spend the day learning to trim a house, install cabinets, and hang doors.
I don’t think Harrison found his future calling but he did well, making sure to be on time, and working through some of the issues that come up during a work day. He left on a handshake and with a couple of referrals that he should be able to use this summer while looking for that next job.
- We stopped down for two months
- We connected into a small town
- We worked with our hands
- We got sweaty and dirty
- We learned the names of animals
- We sang out of hymnals at a church with a hat rack full of cowboy hats
- We were told we would be missed
- We were told that we can stop back to visit any time
Yes, I think this was a success.
Can We Replicate?
Coming out of the farm and re-entering the RV park and campground scene has been a bit of a culture (and budget) shock. We have had to re-acclimate to the traffic and noise.
We still enjoy it but are thinking that we’d like to see about trying this farm experience again, somewhere in the midwest and during harvest season. We enjoyed getting to know people better, and feeling like we had actually ‘lived’ in a place.
We enjoyed working with our hands, learning to drive tractors and backhoes, and seeing the fruits of our labors in place as we drove away.