Taylor Huffman

By Gretchen Eichenberg

Co-owner of Western Belle Farm

Everything’s been coming up sunflowers and zinnias this season as Western Belle Farm in West, Texas sees the last of its spring and summer flowers fade away and the staff begins to prepare for pumpkin planting this month. No matter the season, visitors get a full farm experience whether strolling fields of flowers or blazing through a sprawling corn maze. Plus, it’s a place where families can play together, learn about farm animals, enjoy freshly prepared food and get back to their roots. Owners Taylor Huffman and her husband Brandon, along with their kids, Jana and Weston, live and work on the farm as part of their family heritage — but it’s also a passion, and they seem to be darn good at what they do.

WACOAN: You and your family moved here from Maryland. How did that happen?

Taylor Huffman: I feel like I’ve already lived a lifetime, but I just turned 30 this past year. I was a real estate agent in Maryland. I got in the business at 18 and grew quickly. I established a team when I was 21 and opened my own office. When my dad got sick, my husband and I stepped back to the family farm to try to help him keep it going. After his passing, we purchased it.

WACOAN: That’s a huge undertaking.

Huffman: At 22 years old, my husband and I took on over a million dollars’ worth of debt and kept the family farms going. We worked hard for about six years, but when our children came along, it got hard to juggle those long hours, seven days a week. We found that we weren’t present in their lives like we wanted to be. Covid flipped it all on its head. Our businesses actually were positively affected by Covid that October of 2020 because there was nothing else to do in Maryland but go to a pumpkin patch. We went from about 13,000 visitors in those eight weekends to 32,000 in one year. It gave us a run for our money. Then in 2021, we thought, ‘It surely won’t be that crazy.’ And it just about was. So, we were running a real estate team, farming 450 acres and then running the fall festival business — it really took a toll on our family.

WACOAN: Was the farm a passion of yours or were you feeling obligated to carry on the family business?

Huffman: It actually was my passion. We loved making hay. We were primarily a hay farm and we would sell to horse farms in the area. We would go and sell our hay and stack it in their barns every week. It’s something that I grew up doing as a kid. My parents would throw us in the truck and go deliver on a Saturday night. They’d promise us Golden Corral as a reward, awful as it is. We were farm kids, back in the day.

WACOAN: So, business was good, but you weren’t happy?

Huffman: We had a really rough year in 2021, just trying to keep everything going. Our businesses were booming, our kids were growing but craving attention that we didn’t have to give. We prayed about it and literally out of the woodwork, a casual conversation turned into an offer to buy all five of our farms in one swoop. So we said, ‘OK, this is it.’ It just wasn’t the same without my dad around. We still loved it, but we felt like we were [tied] to the farm and sacrificing everything else to do it.

WACOAN: That must have been a relief.

Huffman: When we signed the contracts, I immediately regretted it. But we couldn’t get out of it so we decided to figure out where we’re supposed to be. We had to come to Texas in 2018 on a family road trip vacation — and fell in love with it. Specifically the Waco area. I think it has this small-town feel, even though it’s a bigger city, and we loved the businesses and the people that we met, and we felt that Waco had so much to offer, being the smaller city that it is.

WACOAN: Waco was a long way from your home.

Huffman: We tried to go to Tennessee. It would have been an easier move. We moved ourselves. My husband has made the 42-hour round-trip to Waco seven times. Tennessee was only 10 hours, but we just didn’t feel that that’s where we were meant to be. One night I was looking because I couldn’t sleep, and I saw that an Airbnb property where we had stayed a couple times was up for sale. It’s three little tiny homes on seven acres. We wrote them an offer and they took it. So we said, ‘OK, we are supposed to be in Waco.’

WACOAN: It was like a sign.

Huffman: Yes but the con list far outweighed the pro list. It’s harder to farm here. It’s harder to move here. It’s farther from family. They took the offer, so that gave us our base living expenses, like a job. Then we needed to find a farm because we came down here with the intentions of doing what my family has always done. And we looked and looked. We made six trips down here in 2021, searching the area, meeting people, talking to people. We fell in love with West. This was pretty much the only farm for sale, but it actually fit everything we needed. So, here we are.

WACOAN: In what ways is farming in Texas different?

Huffman: Texas has been great. Definitely much more supportive of the [agriculture] community. We have found common sense here. We have found that even the government agencies want to help you and want to work with you. Whereas up there, it was a fight every time you got out of bed. So I don’t regret it one bit. But it has had its challenges both in figuring out the logistics and also growing crops.

WACOAN: Besides the festival part of the business, are you also growing crops like you did in Maryland?

Huffman: We sold all of our hay equipment. It was cheaper than moving it cross country. Our plan is to hopefully expand and buy more land to get back into actual farming. Right now we’re focusing on growing specialty crops. Flowers have been successful. Pumpkins have not.

WACOAN: Why is that?

Huffman: You have to grow them through the summer. And last year was just not the year to grow pumpkins here because of the drought. It was too hot and incredibly dry. We were worried to run our tank dry trying to irrigate them. So, we’re going try again.

The Texas panhandle is the best place for growing pumpkins because it gets warm, but the nights get cool and you need the cooler nights to grow the pumpkins, for the fruit to set. We don’t know if it’s ever going be possible here, but we’re certainly going to try to grow pumpkins.

WACOAN: So, the flowers — do you sell them or are they strictly for people to come and see?

Huffman: This spring was our second spring festival that we’ve had here. We open up the farm with all the activities for truly all ages. And then we have flower fields. We cut walking paths and you can walk through, take pictures, enjoy them. But we also sell the flowers. We give instructions, a pair of clippers and then we sell vases or we just put them on water and you take your own bouquet of flowers home. In the fall, we also do pumpkin photo ops and set up pumpkins on displays everywhere. We go all out on the photo ops. We’re known for having really cool ones. We did a big Texas hay flag last year and then put pumpkins at the base. We spray painted the hay and it was about 20 feet tall by 30 feet wide. But our real big claim to fame is gonna be our pumpkin canon.

WACOAN: Describe the pumpkin canon.

Huffman: My dad built it. It’s a long story, but we have a Transformer [the human-like robots from the Hasbro toys and the film series] that stands in our field. It’s a memory of Maryland that we brought with us. My dad always themed our pumpkin canon targets to what the design of our corn maze was. One year it was “Pirates of the Caribbean.” He built a bunch of pirate ships out of boats that people gave us and you would shoot at them. Another year it was Transformers and he built a Transformer out of old trucks. We became a Maryland roadside attraction for these giant 30-foot-tall Transformers that my dad built. My husband and brother built another one and we have it here. So in the fall, you get to get up on the pumpkin canon, you aim it and then you fire it, and it shoots the pumpkins at 70 miles per hour. You hit the cars, the Transformer, anything you can hit.

WACOAN: That sounds really fun! Where will you get the pumpkins, if we have another dry summer?

Huffman: Last year we had to buy and truck them in from the panhandle. We had some come from Michigan too. We’re going to try for Texas again.

WACOAN: Since pumpkins have been so hard to grow here, is it hard to see them destroyed that way, even though it’s tons of fun?

Huffman: We only shoot a certain size pumpkin. We call them our field trip pumpkins. I’m telling you, the thrill that you get from shooting a pumpkin — you don’t feel bad about it. Not at all. It’s a lot of fun. Our neighbor, when he first met us and we told him what we were going do, he was like, ‘Who are these people moving in here?’ We let him be the first person to shoot our pumpkin canon last fall and he loved it.

WACOAN: You’re wrapping up the spring season now. When does the fall season begin?

Huffman: We always open up the end of September through the first week of November. We also did field trips last year. That’s where my heart truly is. This is a business, obviously, but I love to get to open up the farm to the community to engage them with agriculture, to give them some hands-on experience. We had field trips every single day of the week for nine or 10 weeks. The schools bring the kids, we rotate them through the different activities, and then they do a pumpkin lesson where I teach them how we grow pumpkins and then they get to take a hayride and pick a pumpkin. It’s the educational piece that I enjoy. Our goal for this year is to have a pumpkin patch where they’re cutting the pumpkin off the vine and actually picking it.

WACOAN: You’ve got a lot of cool kid activities here — playground, sandbox, picnic tables, animal barn — but this place isn’t just for kids.

Huffman: We had so many women — and honestly men who came out here with their wives — who had a blast cutting flowers. They came up with arms full of the most beautiful flowers and they were so happy because they had never gone in a field and cut flowers. There’s something about getting back to our roots and cutting fresh flowers or picking a pumpkin out of a patch that I think people love and need, truthfully.

WACOAN: When will the fall planting start — and what will happen to all the remaining flowers?

Huffman: We always plant July 1st. People ask what we do with the flowers. We mow them off. It’s not glamorous, right? Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, do you save the seeds?’ No, we don’t. We mow the flowers and till them into the ground and we prepare for fall crops. Our sunflower field this year is going be a corn maze this fall, and our pumpkins will go on the other side of it. We might try to grow some flowers for fall, but getting them through summer is really, really, really hard.

WACOAN: What qualities does it take to do what you do?

Huffman: Number one, I would say hard work. I think the best feedback that we ever get at the farm is that people can see how much work and effort we put into the farm and making things enjoyable. I joke that my job when we’re open is I’m the official trash picker upper because I literally spend all day running around checking on staff, getting them bathroom and water breaks, but also picking up trash because I’m very particular about the look and keeping everything clean and tables wiped down. You also have to have a little bit of creativity to have a vision for things.

WACOAN: What’s your average day like on the farm? Do you rise with the roosters?

Huffman: I’m actually not an early riser during school season. I’m a night owl. I don’t really get a lot of time to do the office side of the business — all the paperwork and the marketing — until night. So I work into the wee hours of the morning. In the off season, I’m the marketing, staffing, scheduling person.

WACOAN: How many people do you have on staff?

Huffman: In the fall we had 27, this spring we had 21. We pay our staff pretty well because to me, your staff is your best investment and the face of your business.

WACOAN: How many hours of sleep do you get a night?

Huffman: Like five. Yeah. I live off of sweet tea and Dr Pepper. By the way, I had no idea that Waco was where Dr Pepper was founded. It was always hard to find in Maryland, so when we moved, I was like ‘They better have Dr Pepper,’ and then…they did.

WACOAN: Do you have to get up and feed the animals — that kind of thing?

Huffman: My husband’s more of the outside maintenance — [the] feeding of the animals. I think if we didn’t have children, I’d be outside with the animals more.

WACOAN: How old are your kids and where do they go to school?

Huffman: Jana is five and goes to West Elementary. Weston is three and not in school yet.

WACOAN: Do they like being farm kids?

Huffman: They do. It’s tricky because everyone wants to come to our house because of all the fun that’s at the farm. So anytime they get invited to go anywhere else, they get very excited. But I think they’ll learn to appreciate it. I grew up in the business and I was my parents’ free labor at 11, 12 years old, running the pumpkin cannon all day.

WACOAN: Did you enjoy that?

Huffman: I did. I think it taught me a good work ethic. I started at 11 years old, borrowing my mom’s credit card to order glow sticks online, and then I would set up a glow stick stand. When we were open at night, I would sell glow sticks. I’d use my cash to pay her back.

WACOAN: You’ve always been an entrepreneur.

Huffman: I think so, yeah. I tried college and I didn’t last. I got my license in real estate, so that’s what I did, and I enjoyed it. I was really good at it. My downfall is I couldn’t tell people no, so real estate ran my life pretty quickly. And that’s also why I probably was pretty successful.

WACOAN: Being a small business owner, do you feel called to support other local businesses?

Huffman: Yes, I try to support local small businesses. That’s been a big thing for me. If I give someone free tickets to give away on their page, then it helps both of us.

I have a friend who owns a picnic business, called Dreamy Picnics. She creates picnics for birthday parties, engagements, bachelorette parties. So this spring, in the flower field, I cut a secret path and made a big clearing and put this antique table in it for her. We had a private event sign and I let her book picnics in the flower field for her business. I used it as a photo op when she wasn’t here.

WACOAN: I bet a lot of people want to come just to take photos.

Huffman: We have photographer passes. I made them dirt cheap. It’s $25 and you can make as many appointments as you want during our season to use our flower fields. It’s also good marketing for us because then they share the photos on Instagram.

WACOAN: What else are you hoping to do at the farm?

Huffman: I have plans in the future of expanding the farm. We want to try to extend more into the earlier spring season before the heat sets in, so we’re working on a blue bonnet festival. We’re just trying to figure out how we have a blue bonnet field without having everyone trample it. We’re still working out the details. You have to plant them in the fall and they’re extremely expensive to plant. It’s like $5,000 an acre. Last fall was not the fall to plant, as dry as it was. We’re gonna try this fall to get some different crops in the ground. That would be for spring.

We’d love to grow strawberries one day. We bought the machine to do it, we just don’t have the perfect soil for it. We have a clay soil and the Gholson area has the sandy soil, which is better for it. We’re gonna still try to grow things here. That’s our number one goal is not just be a fun farm, but a fun farm with crops that the community can take part in.

WACOAN: How would you describe your perfect day off, doing nothing farm-related? Or would you allow yourself a day off?

Huffman: A day off would just be honestly eating out, doing something with our kids, taking them to do something, especially right before a festival. We always take them to do one good, fun thing because they know for the next five weeks, we’re busy. This past spring, I took them up to Epic Waters in Grand Prairie. It’s an indoor water park and we had a great time. So I’d say doing something with my kids.

WACOAN: Do you cook?

Huffman: I do cook, but I don’t love it. I think it stems from the fact that there are so many other things I need to be doing right now that I don’t want to spend the time cooking. And then you also have to go to the grocery store. During festival season, I don’t really cook much at all. We eat out a good bit. Or we live off our food stand. That’s why we have steak tacos on the menu this year. I got tired of the cheeseburgers and hotdogs. So we added chicken tenders for our kids and steak tacos. We eat at our concessions while we’re open and then we eat out during the week because we’re in town running errands and picking up things for the farm.

WACOAN: Talk about running a business together with your husband. How does that work?

Huffman: We are a good team, in that he’s the hands-on person. He can build anything. He takes my crazy ideas, reels them in a little bit and says, ‘OK, this is what we’re gonna do.’ He’s the good levelheaded one. I’m the dreamer. Owning a business with your husband and working every day with him is challenging. That’s why we simplified our lives moving here, to make that balance a little bit better.

WACOAN: You seem to be working all the time, so what kinds of things do you do for self-care? I have a feeling you’re going say ‘What’s self-care?’ So, what would you do if you had time for yourself?

Huffman: This is terrible but I don’t like to exercise, just to exercise. Being a hay farmer was nice because we were always loading and unloading hay, which was exercising but you were getting something done. Now it’s a little more challenging because I don’t have hay to throw. When we’re open, I walk around 19 to 21,000 steps a day between running around, making sure everything is perfect. I honestly just like to be outside physically doing something for the farm. A lot of our tasks, especially now that we don’t have our big equipment anymore, are by hand. We pulled 15,000 feet of drip tape last summer in the heat by hand and shoveled dirt on top of it. Things like that are self-care for me. I rarely get my hair done; like three times a year. I’m probably the most low maintenance girl you’ve ever met.

WACOAN: Spirituality seems to be important to your family.

Huffman: That’s very true. We had a little bit of a rough start finding a church when we first moved here. We ended up at Antioch, and we love it there. We don’t go during our season, but outside of that, I need that one day a week to go to church in the morning — to hear something good, you know. Get my mind in the right place. We usually do lunch as a family at one of our favorite places, El Ranchito #5, right down the street.

WACOAN: How much of a factor did your spirituality play in your move?

Huffman: Oh, a hundred percent. I was like a powerhouse that couldn’t be stopped. I was juggling so much, managing it all, doing really, really well. And I mentally got in a really bad spot. We were 27, 28 years old and financially incredibly well off because we had hustled for six years. Any person would think you made it. But our marriage and our family, we were not OK. I really feel that God turned off my brain to get my attention because I just couldn’t think. I couldn’t manage things like I used to. It was not even mom brain because our son was a year old. I mentally broke and got into a place of really good prayer and daily time and quickly realized I’m doing life wrong.

WACOAN: Prayer is self-care, isn’t it?

Huffman: It is. And I never took time to do it. I felt guilty sitting for 15 minutes in the morning when my days were scheduled, literally from 7 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. every day. It’s hard to fit it in there, but it’s essential as I found out.

WACOAN: Have you felt welcomed by the Central Texas community?

Huffman: The community here has been incredible and so has the turnout. We don’t have a single negative review, knock on wood. It is hard to make everyone happy. People have been grateful and people constantly pull me aside and say, ‘You’re doing a great job.’ The community of West surrounded us, supported us. They were like, ‘What do you need to help be promoted?’ And so, I have no doubts. We were meant to be here and this was his plan for us. But it hasn’t been easy.

WACOAN: And you’ve got people coming from all over the state.

Huffman: This spring, we had people come from El Paso specifically to see the flowers. We have people regularly from Houston, this spring from Tyler. We’ve been pulling from all over D-FW, north of D-FW, down in Temple, north of Austin. I’ve been blown away with how far people will drive to come see the flowers and our farm and the support is what has completely blown me away. So I guess that’s the beautiful side of it all. We’re really excited to be here.