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Community Life at Brazos de Dios

As you pass beneath the welcome sign and through the front gate of Brazos de Dios, you will begin to see and feel a way of life as it was lived for generations: community life in a land−based culture.

Our Christian community, begun a third of a century ago as a small inner−city mission in New York City, has dedicated its efforts over the last two decades toward restoring and preserving traditional patterns for family and community living—patterns for homesteading, self−sufficient farming, gardening and home schooling, together with other homestead crafts and practical skills. Homestead Heritage at Brazos de Dios, the original Spanish name for the river which borders the small community, is neither a "living history museum" nor a "reenactment" stage. Quite to the contrary, it is, in the most literal sense, a "real life" effort, established as an actual working farm devoted to recapturing the heritage of community life in a land−based culture.

While dense woods and agricultural fields intersperse over the farm's 510 acres, the settlement areas of Brazos de Dios take on a traditional rural community form. Family homesteads with gardens, fruit trees, poultry and small animals complement a cluster of distinctive handcraft workshops serving the community's craftsmen and their apprentices—furniture makers, blacksmiths, potters and others. Next to the workshops, a restored eighteenth−century barn houses the work of the community, and a native−style log building serves a variety of wholesome food to the steady stream of visitors to the farm. A few steps away, the rhythmical turning of grindstones in a restored 1760's gristmill grind a steady supply of fresh flour and cornmeal from the grains harvested from community crops. On the far side of the carefully placed and tended beds of the adjacent herb garden lies the sorghum mill. Here in late summer, shortly after the corn harvest, the horse−drawn cane press squeezes raw juice from harvested sweet sorghum cane, trickling it into a copper pan that sits atop a wood−fueled limestone firebox where golden−brown sorghum syrup is cooked to perfection.

Throughout the seasons, the model homestead just across the road allows visitors to see, close at hand, a variety of agricultural methods and practices that all work together to contribute to a thriving family homestead: biointensive vegetable gardening, tending and pruning orchards, vineyards and berry patches, using greenhouses and cold frames, small−scale poultry raising, field farming with horses and mules, beekeeping, rainwater harvesting and more. This working homestead includes a two−story log cabin from the 1800's as well as a restored timber frame barn that houses a Farm and Garden Supply Center which offers information, products and tools to those who want to establish or enrich their own family homesteads.

Not far away, a timber−framed community center, nestled among red cedars, burr oaks, junipers and ashes, serves many functions: wedding receptions, church meetings, music get−togethers, birthday parties and so on. Nearby a large pavilion, constructed of timbers from the farm, becomes the center of the community's annual craft fair and exposition held each Thanksgiving weekend, an affair which has grown until it now draws thousands of visitors from across the country and beyond.

The community farms the land with draft horses—from plowing and discing to seeding, cultivating and harvesting the field crops—using only natural farming methods. The rich river−bottom land supports fields of corn, hay, sweet sorghum, oats, wheat and sweet potatoes as well as fruit orchards and individual family vegetable gardens. It also hosts more than 200 majestic pecan trees, many dating back well into the nineteenth century. Year−round, the community's horses, cattle and sheep pasture on this fertile river−bottom land, grazing in the open pastures in fall and winter and under the shade of the pecan grove in summer. Dairy cows and milk goats supply milk and cream, which families drink fresh and make into yogurt, butter and (everyone's favorite summer treat) hand−cranked sorghum pecan ice cream! All through the year, families raise a wide variety of poultry, with chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys waddling and strutting through the yards and underbrush.

The seasonal cycles of agrarian life, a meter not of the community's design but of a larger one, a given one, provide a mooring and a rhythm for the whole life of the community. The desire for a simpler way of living in harmony with these same patterns of agrarian life has brought people of a vast range of social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds to the community: artists, craftsmen, college lecturers, philosophers, professors, lawyers, accountants, medical professionals, physicists, auto mechanics, law officers and fire fighters, seminary instructors, carpenters, landscape architects and city planners, as well as public school administrators and teachers, computer operators, secretaries and more—all who have embraced the nonviolent, Christian life of the community. Down through the years, sinking roots in an ongoing relationship with the land has taught everyone in the community much and given them a new perspective. Whether farming and gardening, preserving food, raising homes and community buildings, doing chores, playing horseshoes, taking walks or swimming in the bordering Brazos River, young and old alike form closer family and community relationships as lives are woven together.

As families incorporate the traditional patterns of homestead living into their lives, they find themselves amid a "living curriculum" that unfolds daily. As each presses forward, meeting the real needs of their families and of their neighbors, the daily "course" calls forth the dormant gifts from each participant in the community's life.

At the same time, the common course of the community collectively brings these gifts and skills together into a larger, more meaningful context as all move in response to the needs within the community. Real living requires facing real needs. So the community long ago decided to forego all government monies to cover their health, education or welfare needs. Instead, the individuals in the community embrace these needs and work together to meet them. Ultimately, no abstraction can effectively cover what are in fact far more than mere conglomerates of statistical information but rather real, individual, personal needs: the community believes that personal responsibility before a personal God best covers personal needs.

The work of this community is ultimately to craft lives, weaving together people of diverse backgrounds, not into a uni−formity but into a unity of vision and purpose−a community−where lives are mutually pledged to serve one another. To this end lives are lived daily at Brazos de Dios in grateful and careful consideration of all that God has given.

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The path of the rightous is as the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. Prov. 4:18 NIV

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