By Elizabeth Winslow
Photography by Jody Horton
The sun comes up much earlier on a farm—at least it sure feels that way. With the first crow of the rooster on Sunday morning, my children tumble out of bed and run out into the misty morning light to the fields in pj’s and rubber boots to help with the lettuce harvest. We’re staying at Montesino Farm in Wimberley, in the just-completed farm studios that owner Scott Mitchell built to weave agritourism into the farm’s operational model. The studios are more than just a way to bolster the bottom line, though.
“We are always working to educate our community about the reality and the beauty of a small organic farm,” explains farm manager Melody McClary. “As this part of the farm grows, we hope to offer educational classes that range from harvesting in the garden [to] culinary classes, from meal prep to canning and even harvesting meats.”
Staying overnight on the farm gives guests an opportunity to experience the farm up close and year-round. McClary’s life partner and fellow farm manager, David Burk, has no problem listing a few of his favorite seasonal farm treasures: “In the summer I love the river; in the rainy season, exploring the grottos that form from waterfalls in the canyon; in early spring the peach orchard blossoms; and in the winter I love the warmth of the greenhouses,” he says. “We’re hoping people come again and again to see the farm in all its different phases.”
McClary had given me a brief tour of the unfinished studios several months prior to this visit. The idea of experiencing a true immersion in the rhythms of life on a farm was intriguing, so as soon as the cabins were ready, my family and I shed our city clothes in favor of jeans and boots, packed up the car with wine, coffee and a few provisions and drove the 45 minutes from Austin to a slower way of life.
The drive out to Montesino makes for a beautiful excursion in itself. Curving roads weave through classic Texas Hill Country vistas, past vineyards and pasture, through the charming, sleepy little town of Wimberley with its artsy shops and homey cafes and over the Blanco River, which cuts through the Montesino Farm property bordered on both sides by stair-stepped limestone ledges and juniper, oak, mesquite, cypress and cedar trees. Looking down the length of the river as we drive through the gates of the farm, one imagines how refreshingly cool these waters would feel in the summer after a long hike in the canyon.
When we arrive, the door to our cabin is open, with fresh breezes blowing in and sunlight streaming through the windows. We find that our hosts have harvested carrots, tender lettuces, sharp, spicy green garlic, onions and duck eggs for our breakfast. While we unpack and get settled, the children go outside and push each other on the swing that’s tethered to the branches of a pecan tree that must be over 100 years old.
Looking out from the studios, one sees the orderly farm fields stretch down to the road, bordered by the greenhouses where seeds are started, a peach and blackberry orchard and a barn built by Mitchell, a visionary designer and builder originally from Houston. Mitchell bought the property in 1998 as an occasional Hill Country escape from city life in Austin—a place to inspire creativity. The property that was to become Montesino captured him with its stunning beauty—rolling pastures bordered by the river on one side and a half circle of hills on the other, crowned by montesino, the little mountain.
Over the years, the property has transformed into a beautiful farm with rich soil and abundant crops carefully tended by McClary and Burk, and exquisite farm buildings crafted by Mitchell. In addition to the studios and a magnificent 28-foot pole barn, the property is home to a reclaimed 1940s Quonset hut (a prefabricated semicircular structure built of corrugated galvanized steel) and McClary and Burk’s home—an old pine cottage moved onto the farm from East Austin and lovingly restored. The studios are impeccably built—modern but comfortable—and inside, evidence of Mitchell’s eye for detail and high standards for construction is abundant. The two duplex studios each offer a queen bed and pull-out sofa bed, a modest, efficient kitchen and a roomy bathroom with a large shower. Outside, there’s a small yard with a fire pit for gathering and cooking—all shaded by the sprawling branches of ancient pecans.
As the afternoon sun begins to mellow, McClary and Burk offer to lead us on a property tour. The densely planted fields are fascinating—even the children stop their explorations long enough to hear about the work that goes into growing food. McClary explains that the regular Friday afternoon farm tours will be a way for people to leave the farm not only rested and rejuvenated, but edified as well. “We really want people to see, firsthand, what it takes to grow a carrot or raise a chicken” she says. “Our guests will see our everyday lives—we’ll be prepping for markets, harvesting produce and taking care of animals.”
Before heading back to start dinner, we hike to the top of the little mountain to enjoy what is perhaps the most stunning view on the property. Facing west, we see the sun slip down across a sky stained orange. Swallows dip and dive, and in the silence we can hear the sweet song of the canyon wren. In the distance, someone has started a fire in the fire pit, and a thin wisp of smoke drifts up, calling us back. Someone’s got to pour the wine, marinate the meat, chop the just-harvested produce for dinner and prep the marshmallows for roasting. It’s a tough life here, visiting the farm, and the sun is threatening to rise even earlier tomorrow.
For more information on Montesino Farm and booking a studio, visit the farm’s website at montesinoranch.com or call 512-547-7667.