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Landscapes, Winter 2008

A Tale of Two Innkeepers

Couple brings new life to a 113-year-old farmstead in the heart of rural Texas.

Bob and Marilyn Garber

Photo by Geno Esponda

Owners Bob and Marilyn Garber welcome visitors to pick and cut their own Christmas trees.

Tradition. Family.
That’s what it’s all about during the holiday season — reliving time-honored traditions and creating new memories for our families for generations to come.

At The Silo Christmas Tree Farm near Temple, Texas, owners Bob and Marilyn Garber’s mission is to provide a place where families can do just that, and experience life on a 19th century farm.

A Taste of the Silo Seasons

In October, the celebration of fall harvest begins with a mountain of golden pumpkins, boisterous hayrides and plenty of outdoor fun at the pumpkin patch.

In November, the Garbers show their Christmas spirit by opening their doors the weekend before Thanksgiving to accommodate folks who may want to get their trees early. At nearby Fort Hood, for example, U.S. Army personnel are often deployed before the holidays, and some plan combined Thanksgiving and Christmas family celebrations.

During the season, visitors are greeted with cups of steaming mulled cider, as they wander the rows in search of that perfect tree, or peruse a display of hand-made wreaths.

A Marvelous Discovery

Eight years ago, Bob and Marilyn had not long been settled into a brand-new home on nearby Lake Belton, when they saw that the farm was for sale. The 12-acre property consisted of an old, neglected farmhouse, animal barn and corral — and an almost untarnished red-brick silo, after which the farm was named.

The farm’s history appealed to Bob, a builder, and Marilyn, a retired teacher, who could see the possibilities for its restoration. “I feel honored to be on this farm, where families have left their footprints,” says Marilyn. “We want to give back to the community, and the farm is a way to do that.”

The Farmhouse Restoration

With abundant energy, the couple plunged into the project. First, they sold the Lake Belton home. With only three months in which to move, they built a “barnhouse” on the new property — a bright and airy 864-square-foot structure, painted red with white trim. It became their home for three years while they tackled the old farmhouse renovation.

silo

Photo by Geno Esponda

Kids of all ages, including the Garbers’ grandchildren, find that the farm’s original silo makes a great echo chamber.

Now, the barnhouse serves as a bed and breakfast for nine months of the year, and as the farm’s gift shop during the holidays.

The Garbers did everything they could to be true to the homestead’s original structure and to salvage and reuse materials. If it wasn’t termite-ridden, it was recycled, from door and window trim to floor boards to exterior siding.

Inside today are all manner of whimsical nods to the farm’s history. Tucked away inside a hallway above a door are the cedar shakes from the original back porch. Under the walls, the couple discovered that part of the insulation was newspaper. Now, two areas of the Temple Daily Telegram are exposed, protected by Plexiglas: where the dates June 26 and June 28, 1912, can be seen clearly.

Christmas Trees and More

In keeping with the property’s legacy, the Garbers decided to make it a working farm. Standard crops and livestock were not an option, because of the small acreage and the lack of good fencing. But they’d heard that Christmas tree farms had been a growing Texas industry since the mid-1970s, and decided to give it a go.

The farm has had a few ups and downs — one year they lost 80 trees in one field to drought. But with an underground watering system, they’ve been able to sustain their crop. Now, they grow close to 750 Afghan pines and a few Leyland Cypress on the upper six acres. They also sell potted Afghans, and pre-cut Fraser firs and Virginia pines.

pumpkin patch

Photo by Pearl Fellingham

The farm’s holiday season kicks off with a pumpkin patch..

Each year, the Garbers have come up with new ideas for their venture. They grow pecan trees and blackberries, from which Marilyn makes jam to sell in the gift shop. Recently, they added a hay maze to the assortment of farm attractions. In addition, the lower six acres of the property comprise a series of nature trails along a creek, and a wildlife habitat.

Trusted Partners Lend a Hand

For financing, the Garbers looked no farther than Texas Land Bank for the farm purchase and the farmhouse restoration. Bob says that they have had “a real relationship” with the Land Bank and their loan officer Weldon Schiller.

“I’ve been in the building business for a long time,” says Bob. “Working with Texas Land Bank is a pleasure. Weldon is totally focused on farm life, knows how to help and really cares about us.”

Says Schiller, “I’m proud of the relationship we have with the Garbers. They’re hard-working folks and it took a lot of faith to jump into the tree-growing business. They have wonderful integrity, a unique product and offer a great service to their community.”

Going for the Old

Today, even with the absurdly early blitz of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas advertising, the holidays have a way of sneaking up on us. The season can leave us somewhat flustered, as we rush to prepare for upcoming festivities.

For most city folks, that’s when visiting The Silo Christmas Tree Farm is a welcome change from the hectic pace of modern life — and, who knows, it might just become a family tradition.

For more information, go to www.texaschristmastrees.net/silofarm.htm, or call (254) 986-7988.

 

– Article by Tina Jackson
– Photos by Geno Esponda and Pearl Fellingham