Flora & Fauna

August 14, 2014

Lessons from the Past

2013-12-05 11.12.06

The growing presence of new technology in the form of wind turbines around Willacy County, did not keep Grace Heritage Ranch from flourishing by imitating and thriving with traditions from the past.

Bryan and Mary Schalk moved to Willacy County from Cameron County three years ago with a dream: to live in a self- sustaining homestead where they could grow organic vegetables, raise farm animals and home school their six children.  Most importantly, Bryan wanted to instill in his family the perseverance, wisdom and work ethics from past generations. As months went by, friends visited the ranch and enjoyed it so much that Bryan and Mary decided to share their homestead with others. “It’s just like pioneer days, but our God given abilities are to teach, and that is what drove us to share our ranch with others,” said Bryan.

Named after the family’s loyal first donkey, God’s Grace, which succumbed to cancer in 2012, Grace Heritage Ranch officially opened its doors to the public on Saturday December seventh. On the fifth, the Raymondville Chamber of Commerce hosted a “rope cutting” at the 100-acre ranch where members and guests, led by Pastor Bob Harris of San Benito, prayed for blessings, and wished the Schalks the best in their new venture. One of the guests present was Willacy County Commissioner Noe Loya who has been an ardent supporter since Bryan approached him with the idea almost two years ago. “We need more people with new ideas like him to come to Willacy County. We are here to help out with access roads, and the Chamber of Commerce will also support this effort,”said a proud Loya adding that Grace Heritage Ranch will bring more visitors to the county.

For Bryan Schalk managing the ranch is his passion, but he also has to fulfill his duties as a full time employee of the federal government. Prayer is what keeps Mary Schalk going, and working together has strengthened her family. There are many chores to tackle each day, and hosting visitors on Saturdays will certainly increase the work, but Bryan, Mary, and the children are thrilled at the potential of teaching others about their lifestyle.

“What is the number one use of a cowhide?” asked Bryan during the rope cutting. “Boots,” someone yelled. “To keep the cow together,” a smiling Bryan replied as he talked about a wealth of featured activities included in the 2 ½ hour tours. It is an interactive tour where visitors will have the opportunity to feed the cattle, and see the ranch’s naturally pastured heritage breeds of animals. Milking the goats, feeding the turkeys, chickens, and geese, in addition to learning about a rain water collecting system, heirloom vegetables, rotating garden, endangered animal species, beehives, and native grasses will be part of the tour.  One of the Schalk children will demonstrate how to turn cotton fibers into yarn, and Bryan will talk about the county’s historic shipwreck, and the salt lakes.  A Willacy County ranch tour could not be complete without learning about an onsite working oil well, and the nearby wind farms.

During the event, Bryan and Mary, with sons Jacob, Matthew, Joseph, and Caleb, introduced guests to some of the animals, and encouraged them to partake in feeding the vivacious goats, donkeys, and rambunctious turkeys.  Cold and gloomy weather has not discouraged the Schalk family, for they have been getting the ranch ready for some time now. “It did take an initial investment,” commented Bryan, “but in the long run we will see the savings generated by our new lifestyle.”

Turkeys at Grace Heritage Ranch

Ranch tours will be available every Saturday at 10:00 a.m. and at 2:00 p.m.  Private tours are available for different dates and times with previous reservations.  Because, their website says, the ranch is an operating and working homestead, it could be a potentially hazardous place. Guests are encouraged to arrive early enough to complete an indemnity form that can also be printed online. Graceheritageranch.com is a great place to start the tour, meet the family, access admission costs, and everything that is happening at the ranch including the sale of their beautiful steers, goats, geese and chicks.

Now that the vision is complete, Bryan reflects on what is most important to him and Mary. “We believe our children are learning Christian values, and are good stewards of the land, for they see where food comes from and appreciate things more as a result of positive work ethics and hard work. They know things are not free,” concluded Bryan.

27539 Old Alice Road – Santa Monica, TX – Toll Free 1-855-447-8687

This article was published by The Valley Business Report /January 2014 issue.

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About the Author

Nydia O
La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" my life in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. I write about the food, the culture, the good times and the bad. I write about the people who make El Valle festive and laid back at the same time. Contributions and comments are always welcome .

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