Children’s Vegetable Garden at Phil Hardberger Park

By Janice Tapp, Bexar County Master Gardener

Runners, walkers, and cyclists often begin their exercise workouts at the Voelcker Trailhead near the Phil Hardberger Park. Yet, many are unaware that there is a special section called the Children’s Vegetable Garden adjacent to the old white house near the trailhead. The high fence and raised beds are visible from the trailhead, but many of us don’t know exactly why it exists. The history behind the garden is intricately connected to the Voelcker Ranch and dairy farm.

In the 1800s Max and Minnie Voelcker lived in the now-remodeled limestone residence, which now houses the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy’s offices.  The Conservancy is responsible for managing the park’s activities, including its 330 acres of wildlife habitat.

Photo credit Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy

Upon their marriage, the couple moved into the 1930’s white wooden farmhouse, which was crafted by Max, and which is still occupied by one of their cattle hands. The red barn housed their dairy cows and is also partially restored. The Texas-style windmill drew up the water supply for their use.

Text Box: Photo credit: Phil Hardberger Park ConservancyThis couple was one of the last few dairy farmers in the area. As one walks the property, barbed wire attached to old wood posts made from tree limbs is still evident. These barbed wires, still attached to their rugged posts, reminds us of how it they protected the cows from leaving the property or falling into the Salado dry creek bed from some of the cliff areas. It’s almost hard to imagine the cattle roaming this area in today’s modern times.

After the couples’ passing, and with the encouragement of former Mayor Phil Hardberger, the city of San Antonio purchased the property. In doing so, the city has kept its history and heritage alive and made it accessible to the community to bear witness to and participate in its original purpose as a farm.

Photo credit Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy

In 2015, in connection with the city’s Big Give, the community became involved in developing and operating a Children’s Vegetable Garden. Local Eagle Scouts created beds, benches, and compost bins. The City of San Antonio’s Parks & Recreation Department, Texas AgriLife Extension, the Bexar County Master Gardeners (BCMG) and the Alamo Area Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists also became part of the community’s efforts.  

Aside from the children’s garden, the Voelcker Ranch and dairy farm property is also home to the Butterfly Learning Center, an educational program created and managed by the Alamo Area Master Naturalists. The center preserves native habitat, conserves native pollinators, and provides a hands-on learning experience for children and adults alike.

Photo credit Linda Cace, BCMG

Other programs include Dairy Days, held in the fall, and periodic plant sales throughout the year. The Voelcker Farm site was chosen to continue the heritage of farming in San Antonio. On Tuesday mornings, in the spring and in the fall, BCMG volunteers can be found guiding participants in the Children’s Vegetable Garden, located off Old Blanco Road next to the Voelcker Trailhead in Phil Hardberger Park.

There are approximately 28 plots where the children plant seasonal vegetables suitable to the Texas climate. Ages for this program runs from 7-14 years old; each child is accompanied by at least one family member. Each family maintains its own vegetable plot, and every week, a BCMG volunteer teaches the children a lesson with a demonstration on topics such as plants, soils, bugs, fertilizers, and all that relates to outdoor gardening. The success of each harvest is evident in the excitement the children demonstrate when they reap the yields of their labor and learning.