Fun on the Farm
Words by Jennifer Simonson Photos by Ashley Haguewood
Out on the farm, the weather dictates everything. Sometimes there is too much rain. Sometimes there is not enough rain. And sometimes there are record-breaking days of low rainfall and high temperatures, and it stays that way for years. According to these farmers, all you can do is wait it out and pray for the best.
That, along with a lot of hard work, is how Marc and Twyla Nash got through the recent drought that gripped Central Texas. The couple owns and operates Elgin CHRISTmas Tree Farm, a Christmas tree farm about 25 miles east of downtown Austin. The 100-acre farm at the end of a dusty gravel road not far from Highway 290 has been in operation since 1984. It was then that Twyla’s father, Walton Dalton, started planting Christmas trees as a retirement business. The farm quickly became a holiday tradition where local families come to select the perfect tree to help make their Christmas memories.
In 2002 when the retirement project grew into a full business that required more work and attention than Walton wanted to give it, Marc and Twyla bought the farm. With a background in environmental engineering, the couple was happy to work outside and on something they could call their own.
When Marc and Twyla took over, they added fall pumpkin activities, acreage to rotate the tree crop more effectively and more family-friendly fun. If problems or challenges arose that they couldn’t figure out, they would ask Walton for advice.
But then 2008 started and the normal hot, dry Texas summers turned even hotter and drier. When records for low rainfall and high temperatures began to break month after month and the National Drought Mitigation Center posted pictures of the state of Texas colored in dark red, Marc and Twyla again turned to Walton for advice. For the first time, he didn’t have any to offer. So the Nashes did the only thing they knew how to do: doubled the workload and prayed.
“I didn’t sleep for more than four hours at a time, because every five hours the irrigation needed to be moved,” Marc recalled. Marc watered the fields in the middle of the night every night. Every morning the couple and their three children (they have since adopted a fourth) woke up at dawn to hand water the trees. They lost a lot of trees to drought, but because of their diligent watering, they didn’t lose them all. Never far from their faith, the Nashes always counted their blessings including the value of hard work this hardship was instilling in their family. “We were able to teach our children a work ethic during the drought. If we were going to survive, we all five had to get out there at 6 am and work through 100 degree days,” Twyla said with a smile.
And survive they did. During the lean years, they supplemented the supply of Christmas trees by selling some trees from a farm on the East Coast. The weather eventually turned around, providing better soil for the 7000-8000 trees planted every year. Finally the Christmas trees they worked so hard for, the trees that endured the drought, are now being sold. Besides a few skinny trees standing alongside of the 4-to-14-foot bushy ones, nothing remains of the drought.
The work continues, and the couple is gearing up for its busy season. Every October the farm opens up for families, community groups, and students on field trips to enjoy pumpkin painting, scenic hayrides, a corn maze or a ride aboard the train. The day after Thanksgiving the farm reopens for its busiest weekend of the year. About 1,000 trees per day are sold during this weekend. Guests can take a hayride through the acres of Virginia Pine and Leyland Cypress trees until they find and cut down the Christmas tree that will be the symbol of their holiday season.
Native Knowledge: Open the day after Thanksgiving, Monday-Saturday 10am–5:30pm, Sundays 12-5:30pm. In addition to tree shopping, scenic hayrides, farm animals, a corn maze, and a playground are available to the public.
120 Nature’s Way, Elgin TX 78621
Personal Stylist & Wardrobe Consultant:
Laurel Kinney | laurelkinney.com
Wardrobe Provided by:
Solid Gold, Bearded Lady, Helm Boots, Olive, Service Menswear, & Target (kids)