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Mission San Juan hosts Farm Day

November 11, 2018

Hundreds of people swarmed the grounds of Mission San Juan Capistrano on Saturday morning for an exploration of the past as Elvira Leal stood along and gave thanks for nature’s gifts.

As she knelt, she set a black pot in the grass, facing the mission’s white, stone church, built in 1731, and bowed her head. She prayed that the thin, crab apple plant in the pot would one day blossom with fruit.

“I hope that this tree lives,” Leal, 48, said. “I don’t have a green thumb, so I’m asking for blessings for the tree.”

She planned to name her tree, “Patience.”

Leal received one of 300 free trees from The City of San Antonio Urban Forestry Division as part of Farm Day 2018 at Mission San Juan.

This was the fifth year that the National Park Service and community partners offered Farm Day activities for visitors to discover the roots of San Antonio food culture from the Spanish colonial missions to modern food, wellness, and health.

The free event featured 19 activity stations at the historic mission, located at 9101 Graf Road on the South Side. The event was presented through a partnership with local community partners and sponsored by Mission Heritage Partners and the Western National Parks Association.

Mission Heritage Partners Development Director Dona Kotzur said the organization has helped the mission for 34 years. She said the group has funded more than $200,000 for park projects this year that included an artist-in-residence program and an volunteer-in-parks program.

Despite cool temperatures and periodic rain, large groups of visitors flocked to Mission, Corral, and Acequia Loops for demonstrations that included shucking corn, spinning wool and historic cooking.

Shredded corn husks covered the ground at the shucking station.

“You’ve got to use those muscles,” Greg Garrett from the Institute of Texan Cultures said, as a young girl cranked the wheel of a corn grinder.

Beside him, docent Frank Marasco, 71, told a pair of youngsters about the many uses that corn had.

“I like to think it helps the kids flesh out history they’ve gotten from their history books,” he said.

Visual Information Specialist Justine Hanrahan said the event offered visitors an understanding of farm life during the 18th century and an updated activity — yoga. She said the Park Service offers sessions at the missions to help people find parks in a different way.

“Some people want to take in the environment with yoga,” she said. “There’s something for everybody on Farm Day.”

Behind the livestock corral, visitors demonstrations of how water flows through the San Juan Acequia to a 5-acre demonstration farm tended by the San Antonio Food Bank. Using modern watering systems, the Food Bank grows crops on an additional 45 acres that is harvested and distributed to clients across South Texas.

In 2011, the city restored the acequia and the flow of water along a 6.7 mile long system of ditches, dams and gates that were once part of several acequias. Volunteer Bill Simons, 65, wearing hip waders, stood in knee-high water of the irrigation system as he explained its beauty.

“Even though it looks simple, it was a huge engineering feat,” he said.

The aroma of roasted corn drifted from the culinary demonstration station, where Lu Perez, 74, tasted a tamal with chili and honey. A member of the Over the Hill Senior Club, Perez said events such as Farm Day get older folks out and not sitting at home.

“It does a lot for us,” she said. “I love it, I grew up in this culture, it verifies me.”

At the lassoing stop, Judah Campos, 11, had his first roping lesson. He listened intently to the wrangler who explained how to rope the head of a plastic steer atop a bail of hay. Judah’s roping skills surprised his mother, Tracy Campos, 35, sister, Evalyn, 8, and family friend Jennifer Rodriguez, 40.

Within a five-minute span, he lassoed the horns several times without a miss. When it was time to go, he had one question for his mom: “Can I do it one more time?”

Vincent T. Davis is a reporter in the Greater San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | vtdavis@express-news.net | Twitter: @vincentdavis

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