Fun on the farm: Family opens ranch to tours, teaches visitors to live off land

SANTA MONICA — Growing up in the city, Brian Schalk wanted to teach his children how to live off the land.

So, six years ago, he and his wife Mary bought a 160-acre tract deep in southern Willacy County’s oil field country.

The Wisconsin natives named their spread Grace Heritage Ranch.

“We learned ourselves about self-sustainability,” said Schalk, whose old federal government job brought him and his family to the Rio Grande Valley. “It takes the whole family working together to make it happen.”

Now, Schalk and his family are teaching visitors the lessons they learned.

For three years, the family has been turning the ranch into an “outdoor classroom,” Schalk said.

“We like sharing things we’ve been blessed with,” he said.

Yesterday, Schalk’s family welcomed 105 students from Harlingen’s Bonham Elementary School to the ranch.

For more than two hours, his sons taught the kindergarteners how to milk a goat, tend to a honey-bee hive and make wool.

“I turned wool into yarn and got to pet the donkey and a rabbit,” Anika Amaya, 6, said.

Jacob Moreno helped feed Schalk’s farm animals.

“It’s a long ranch,” Moreno, 5, said. “I like the animals. I like feeding the animals, touching their fur and their hair.”

Teacher Carla Romo said the field trip taught her students life lessons.

“It’s something different,” Romo said. “I think these kids are really learning from it. They’ve never seen most of these animals before so it’s amazing for them. This is fun.”

Melissa Lopez came with her 5-year-old son Michael.

“I think it’s really awesome,” the housewife said. “Kids get to learn what people did back in the day. It’s farm life — how they lived off the land. People don’t live like this anymore. It shows them how we used to do things — how hard it is and how beautiful it is to live this life. It teaches them where everything comes from — everything they want to eat and drink. It’s not coming from Walmart.”

Where is it?

Grace Heritage Ranch

27539 Sold Alice Road, Santa Monica