Texas religious community seeks to preserve and teach essential skills of pre-petroleum agriculture

By Allan Nation

WACO, Texas: Do you know how to build a haystack with just a pitchfork that will shed water and last for years and years with no significant deterioration of the hay inside?

At one time Butch Tindall didn’t either but he found an old agricultural book that described the process.

He now has the process down pat and is teaching young people in his community how to do it as well.

Is knowing how to make a hay stack by hand an important skill today?

The Hurricane Katrina national fuel shortage in 2005 gave everyone a taste of how dependent we are on petroleum and long-distance transportation.

Knowing how to survive without petroleum inputs is a very important body of knowledge and one which North America has largely lost.

Tindall is one of the two farming managers with Heritage Ministries, a non-denominational religious community located on the banks of the Brazos River on the outskirts of Waco, Texas.

Don Brandstadt is the other farm manager.

This community’s primary purpose is to preserve and teach the “essential skills” of homesteading to the next generation through their Center for Essential Education.

These essential skills include both organic farming and rural craft skills such as iron forging, furniture manufacturing, pottery and cloth making.

Ironically, the community originally was founded in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City by a Texas Missionary in 1973.

Finding New York City to be an unhealthy place to raise children and desiring a connection with the land, the community moved to Colorado and then finally to Texas.

Currently, the racially and culturally diverse community numbers around 800 people who have largely found each other through the national home schooling network.

Approximately, 40 families have “homesteads” on the 512 acre farm and many others have bought small farms nearby.

“We largely concentrate on teaching how to create home-based businesses to home schoolers,” Tindall said.

Currently, frequent schools are taught in hard and soft cheese making, organic gardening, small scale poultry production, horse farming, blacksmithing, stained glass, basketry, woodworking, spinning, weaving and quilting soap making, kitchen skills and bee keeping.

These very reasonably priced courses are open to everyone and do not include religious proselytizing. For details go to www.homesteadheritage-homesteading.com.

“We have been teaching people how to grow their own food with just hand tools for about eight years,” Tindall said.

“All our farming is done with horses and primarily concentrates on feeding the community rather than selling food outside the community.”

Crops grown include sweet sorghum for syrup, open pollinated corn for milling, wheat, oats, sweet potatoes and sweet corn.

The small grain crops are dried in shocks and threshed in a belt-driven stationary threshing machine.

A recent new crop is long-staple Sea Island cotton which compliments the community’s wool production and hand spinning and weaving activities. The community produces both rugs and clothes for sale.


All crops are grown organically and all the bottomland is rotated through alfalfa-based pasture to maintain soil organic matter.

“Leguminous pasture is an essential part of our crop rotation program and provides all of our crops’ nitrogen inputs,” Tindall said.

Summer cropped acres are planted to oats and Austrian winter peas for wintergrazing.

The farming and dairying is concentrated on 54 acres of high quality river bottomland and the uplands are largely reserved for sheep grazing and timber.

The community produces its own draft horses and mules. Male steers from the community’s pasture-based Brown Swiss dairy are trained as plow oxen as well.

The community provides an irrigated research and development garden but families are expected to be largely self-sufficient in vegetables.

They have a water-powered grist mill for flour and corn meal, a wood-fired bakery, a hand-milked dairy, a saw mill, a syrup mill, a 300 cow grassfed beef herd and a meat processing facility that both supplies the Heritage community and sells to the outside community as well.

The water-powered grist mill was originally built in 1760 and was moved to Waco from New Jersey. It grinds corn and wheat for the community and visitors every day.

The farm’s wheat and oats are stored in 55 gallon drums lined with food-grade plastic bags.

After being filled with grain, these drums are then injected with Carbon Dioxide with a probe and sealed.

This prevents insect damage and provides the mills with a year-round supply of organic grain.

The community recently added its own grocery store which stocks only organic items.

“We like to heat healthy and we just couldn’t find many organic items in Waco,” Tindall said.

Tindall said that they started out with the idea of just producing and letting others do the marketing.

“We quickly found that wholesaling quickly leads to a treadmill existence. We started direct marketing in 1989 out of the back of a pickup and just grew from there.

“We are just now reaching critical mass in our marketing,” he said.

A beautiful store from a converted barn retails the community’s craft items and a ancient log, dog-trot house has been converted to a deli that serves lunch each day to visitors.

Many of Waco’s civic groups schedule their lunch meetings at the deli and it can cater meals up to 200 people.

The community currently has around 30,000 outside visitors a year plus about 12,000 children on school tours.

The beautiful landscaping has earned the community notice as a recommended stop in the “Gardens of Texas Tour.”

No admission is charged.


Beef production is largely concentrated on a 2300 acre ranch just across the Texas/Oklahoma line northeast of Dallas and is run by two resident families with seasonal help from the Waco community’s young men.

“There is nothing better than ranching for developing young men,” Tindall said.

Currently, the ranch is harvesting two grass-finished beeves a week.

The beeves are transported to the town of West, Texas, for slaughter and then are sent as quarters to the community’s abattoir for further processing.

The Oklahoma ranch has been grass finishing its beef for just two years and is still on a learning curve.

“Most of our grassfed beef would grade High Select right now but not all of it. As a result, we only sell processed beef to the outside world.”

The community’s smoked, all-beef hotdog is a popular seller in Waco as is their smoked beef sausage.

Hotdog maker, John Walsh, said the secret to getting a tight bite in a hotdog is to always grind the beef with ice.

Tindall said all of their food marketing has consisted of providing free tastings and then letting the word spread.

A major public relations effort for the community is an annual fair the weekend following Thanksgiving which attracts over 12,000 people.

“We sell over 4000 pounds of grass fed beef on that weekend,” Tindall said.

This beef is sold as hamburger, shish kabobs, hotdogs, tamales and a local treat called a “gordito” which is a beef filled pastry product.

“Once every cut of beef we produce is perfect we will start selling beef cuts outside of the community.”

This concentration on perfection stems from their religious belief.

“We are big believers in food integrity. It has to absolutely be the best.

“We believe that growing food is a form of worship and that the very best food gives the greatest glory to God,” Tindall said.

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