“I had a farm in Africa…” Karen Blixen
I had a farm. Not in Africa, but in Texas. Sometimes it felt like it was in Africa with the heat of the summer. But unlike Karen Blixen…or in the movie version Meryl Streep…I didn’t have a Denys Finch Hatton. And if you have no idea what I am talking about, then see the movie Out of Africa and you will wish you had a Denys Finch Hatton! lol!
Now where was I…oh, yes…I had a farm in Texas just outside of Austin at the edge of the hill country. I loved that farm as no woman could love a piece of land. I knew every square inch of that 56 acres. I learned so much about the beauty of nature and about myself while working that farm.
In early 2003, the farm was purchased, and I rolled up my sleeves to transform the tired, overgrazed farm. I was homeschooling at the time and thought it would be a wonderful place to teach science through gardening to other homeschooled children.
Two moments stand out in my mind as the point when I decided to make the farm more than just a place to play on the weekends and teach a couple of classes during the week. The first was a trek through the field with a small group of kids. Grasshoppers and other crazy insects were leaping around us and one little boy complained loudly about how horrible and scary these jumping critters were. His whining was contagious and by the time we returned from the adventure, all of the kids were upset about walking through the field! The second moment occurred during a lesson on earth worms. We were making worm boxes and the kids would not touch the worms. I was flabbergasted! The kids were afraid of holding the worms and of getting their hands dirty! What????
I knew then that I had my work cut out for me. Kids just didn’t know how to be outside…much less play outside. They were (and still are) afraid, and getting dirty seems to be out of the question. This lesson played out many times in the following years as I watched many of my daughter’s friends come out to play and explore with her. I heard whines and pouts about “there’s nothing to do out here” and “where is your trampoline?” Never mind that there were 56 acres, trees, and a creek at their disposal. In my formative years, that was pure heaven! It seems that these kids had no clue as to what magic a creek and the woods held!
I wanted to get kids outdoors. I wanted kids to fall in love with the outdoors. I wanted kids to reconnect with their natural world…the world they are intimately connected to. After all, how or why would you protect something if you have no appreciation for its beauty and value? But how do you compete with computers, television, and trampolines? In my case, my mom simply shooed us out the door and locked it behind us! But I knew that probably wasn’t going to work in our world today. I’m pretty sure child protective services would get really busy then!
So, I decided that butterflies were the solution. If kids (of all ages) needed something to lure them outside, butterflies enmasse would probably do the trick. Within a year, Wild-Connections Butterfly Farm and Nature Center was created.
From the website:
“Wild-Connections is a working butterfly farm dedicated to educating our youth about our native plants and animals. It is our hope that children become so intrigued with their experiences at Wild-Connections that they choose to explore the world around them and, in time, develop a sense of awe and empathy toward all life. We invite you and your family to come explore the great outdoors!”
Over the next several months with the help of many good people, gardens were installed, greenhouses were built, the old farmhouse was converted to a learning center and small gift shop, and the butterfly house was built and planted.
Wild-Connections began hosting field trips for school children and their families. During the course of the next six years, thousands of kids and their families visited the farm for butterfly programs, hiking, picnicking, and strolling through the enclosed butterfly house. In addition, we raised butterflies commercially, supplying several larger centers with caterpillars and chrysalis.
I became known as the Butterfly Lady or Farmer Julie. What a hoot! If someone had told me that I would be operating a butterfly farm and nature center one day, I would have told them to go jump in a lake! Who knew?
Life does that…just one of many lessons I learned from that farm.
Although the farm has since closed and I have moved on, I thought it might be fun to share a link or two from some blog posts about Wild-Connections: