This is the season of my life in which I am a mother. That’s what I remind myself when I have to find just a little more patience, or rally myself to get out of bed at three in the morning to tend to a crying child, or forgo a weekend girls’ trip to spend time with my husband, children, and neglected laundry. This place is temporary, and the little moments it comprises become sweeter when I remember that they are fleeting. This piece of time–this season–with my young children will not last.
On the calendar, seasons and their attendant activities help us register the passing of time. When I was little, I drank pretty hard from the Kool-Aid Laura Ingalls Wilder was pouring, so I think the year should be marked with seasonal tasks like deer hunting, hog butchering, maple sugaring, cheese making, and harvesting. I also enjoy tweeds and layered fashions. But here in South Texas, our weather varies between “hot” and “not so hot,” and save for enjoying spectacular wildflower displays in the Spring, an urban-dweller like me rarely experiences the world in a seasonal way.
So, when the Debi and Ken Capps, owners of Devine Acres Farm invited the Alamo City Moms Blog contributors to visit their property, I jumped at the chance to do something Fall-specific. In 2002, Debi and Ken (both schoolteachers) bought the 44-acre former peach orchard to operate as a Christmas tree farm. With the help of their four adult children, extended family, and friends, they have been expanding the Farm ever since. They added the Fall-season activities a few years ago.
At their invitation, I expected to have a fun outing with my children, frolicking among the pumpkins and whatnot. I did not expect the beautiful experience and sense of reconnection our trip provided. I’m excited to tell you about our visit. [hr]
My prior excursions to pumpkin-patchy places followed a consistent theme: after a half-hour (or longer) drive, a quick stop in the pumpkin patch, and a hay ride, one is just sort of...there. And hot.
Devine Acres Farm is different in that it has upwards of 30 different activities that are laid out along wide walkways. It’s organized somewhat like an amusement park, but stripped of unnecessary glitz. The Capps family very deliberately preserved shade trees and installed seating throughout the property. From a practical standpoint, they recognized that many families come with young children or grandparents in tow and need to take frequent rest breaks. philosophically, they wanted to encourage people to stop, relax, and stay for a spell. I noticed this feature early in our visit and was impressed with Ken’s explanation.
My three-year old, 18-month old and I spent three hours at the Farm, which is a full 200% longer than the hour I thought they would last. I attribute the duration of our visit to the number and variety of activities available.[hr]
We kicked things off at the petting zoo, hanging out with several species of goats, chickens, geese, and the resident pigs, Ham and Bacon. Access to the petting zoo is included with your admission, and animal feed is sold for a dollar per cup.
After the petting zoo, Claudia checked out the Blackberry Bramble Maze while I chased Thomas across an open field. The construction of the maze is not as complex as that of a hay-bale or corn maze, but it gives parents with young children a clear sight line on little ones who are working their way through, which was a plus for me, given the circumstances.
Next, Claudia spent about seven minutes tossing bean bags in the Beanbag Forest, a remarkable length of time for her to do anything. While she worked on her throwing arm (and future athletic scholarship), I thought about the fact that there is nothing flashy about this activity. It’s the same cut-wood target and cloth bags we used growing up. No bells. No whistles. And she loved it.
Later, Ken Capps told me that the old-fashioned activities were chosen with purpose. Devine Acres Farm is not designed to be commercial. It doesn’t offer a moon bounce or other inflatables. Everything on the property is consistent with the “country” theme, to encourage families to focus on relaxing and spending time together.
As I reflect on our visit, I realize that many of the Farm’s activities–like horseshoes, fishing, and football throwing–encourage conversation. They offer a way for family and friends to pass time in a convivial way, with the right amount of distraction and without intrusion. It’s not what you’re doing that matters; it’s with whom you are doing it.
Plus, again, the possibility of college scholarships. [hr]
Après bean bags, we checked out two of the Farm’s newest additions, both of which were created from little more than corrugated drain pipe and ingenuity. The Cypress Slides were well-received by both kids.
The bigger hit, however, was the Willow Wobbler. It’s a long tube of plastic pipe, suspended from a beam by heavy nylon straps. You just load your kids in, give it a side-to-side push, and let them crawl from one end to the other as the contraption sways and wobbles.
Acoustical plus: the tube amplifies their laughing and excited shrieks, which makes the activity even more fun, especially for parents.
Claudia channeled her inner Danica Patrick at the Trike Track and tried out the Hoppity Hops.
We caught a demonstration by the inimitable trick-roper, “Cowboy Doug” Whitaker, who is a Devine native himself. I had seen him before, at other locations, and he’s great. His roping and gun-slinging make for a great show, but what I really enjoy is the history and trivia he shares with the audience.
You also can catch musician Keith Lutz, who performs from 1pm-3pm on Sundays in October.
No complaints about the pumpkin patch. It’s not what should bring you to Devine Acres Farm, but it’s perfectly serviceable. Consider this one a hat-tip to the traditional staple of Fall festivities. [hr]
For my money, the Farm’s piece de resistance is the Abbie Rose Gemstone Mining Company.
Visitors purchase a five-dollar bag of “mining rough,” which is rocks and gemstones hidden in a scoop of loose sand and gravel. The rough is poured into a screen box, which is agitated in a sluice.
The sand and gravel fall through the screen and get carried away by the flowing water. The visitor is left with a collection of rocks and gemstones (“jewels,” if she’s a three-year old girl).
The mining rough comes with a guide that can be used to identify the collected specimens.
In our case, the guide made for a great father-daughter follow-on activity. Although my husband was not able to join us on our outing, he and Claudia spent the next evening examining her “jewels” with a magnifying glass and matching them against the pictures in the guide. She went on to take her collection, guide, and magnifying glass to school for show-and-tell.[hr]
For as much as we did, we left a lot on the table; we probably need to make two more trips if we are going to hit all of the Fall activities. I managed to snap pictures of the barrel train, catch-and-release fish pond, and marshmallow-roasting pit. We didn’t make it to within camera-shot of dozens of other activities.
What visitors cannot overlook is the acres of standing evergreen trees, being grown around the property for sale at Christmas. Devine Acres Farm grows three types of trees. Leyland Cypress is hypoallergenic. Elderica Pine has longer needles than other species and can support heavy ornaments. Arizona Cypress is bluish-grey in color and has a minty-citrusy scent. All three species grow well in South Texas. For customers who want a “real” traditional pine tree–the kind that cannot tolerate the climate here–Devine Acres Farm imports Frasier Firs from North Carolina.
The Farm also sells handmade wreaths that are produced in an open workshop on-site. [hr]
Devine Acres Farm has an upscale gift shop, Mason Jar Market, and a small restaurant.
Devine Acres Farm is located in Devine, about 35 miles down I-35. The Farm employs 20-25 seasonal workers and attracts up to 3,000 visitors each weekend. When you go, you can feel good about supporting a family agri-business and the small-town economy. For the 2013 Fall season, admission for ages three and up is $8. Discounts are available for seniors and military. Fishing, barrel train rides, gem mining, and animal feed carry additional charges. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that credit cards are accepted for admission, in the shop and restaurant, and (most importantly), at points of sale out on the Farm.
True to the Capps family’s vision, our visit to Devine Acres Farm gave us a chance to slow down and have fun as a family…
Posing with cut-outs… Admiring a goat under a windmill…
And feeling the joy of being a little girl in a long skirt soaring high on a tree swing.[hr]
I’ve heard it said about mothering that the days are long, but the years are short, and therefore precious. I loved the day we spent at Devine Acres Farm, celebrating this season of the year and reveling in this season of our lives.
I think my co-conspirators loved it too. They were fast asleep before we made it to the highway.
DISCLAIMER: Devine Acres Farm provided me with free admission for Claudia and me, a bag of mining rough ($5), a cup of petting-zoo animal feed ($1), and a ticket for the barrel train ($2). All opinions are my own.