“Welcome! Thank you for coming to our farm,” says Jennifer Garner as she hops out of the car wearing blue jeans, a T-shirt, and a big smile. She gives me a warm hug hello, scoots back to the vehicle, and returns holding a white bakery box. 

“It’s a surprise,” she whispers, lifting the lid so I can sneak a peek of the chocolate-frosted layer cake inside. Her mother, Pat, is turning 80 in 10 days, and the family is planning to squeeze in a celebration this weekend.

It’s the first Saturday in May, and while some people are toasting Cinco de Mayo with margaritas and others are watching Justify win the 144th Kentucky Derby, Jennifer has invited Southern Living to her family’s farm near Locust Grove, Oklahoma, for a photo shoot followed by a weenie roast and, of course, chocolate cake.

Photo: Victor Demarchelier; Wardrobe Styling: Jill Lincoln and Jordan Johnson/The Wall Group; Hair: Ben Skervin/The Wall Group; Makeup: Genevieve Herr/Sally Harlor; Seamstress: Jeanette Wingo

We’ve joined her here on a weekend, but it’s clear that the 46-year-old native West Virginian and mother of three (Violet, 12; Seraphina, 9; and Samuel, 6) is used to working overtime as an actress—and has no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. This fall, she will star in the action film Peppermint (September 7) and the HBO comedy Camping (October). Offscreen, she sits on the Board of Trustees for Save the Children, and last year, she joined Once Upon a Farm, a company committed to making baby food with fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. Soon, this land will be growing blueberries, kale, and persimmons—some of which she’s already been experimenting with on her hilarious Instagram account (@jennifer.garner). As the farm begins its next chapter, we wanted to learn how these Oklahoma acres, so much a part of her mother’s past, will become a part of Jennifer’s future.

Photo: Victor Demarchelier; Wardrobe Styling: Jill Lincoln and Jordan Johnson/The Wall Group; Hair: Ben Skervin/The Wall Group; Makeup: Genevieve Herr/Sally Harlor; Seamstress: Jeanette Wingo

Twenty-four hours earlier, I took a walk through the pecan tree-dotted fields with her parents, Pat and Bill, who traveled here all the way from Charleston, West Virginia, for our story. “We didn’t have much, but we did have good times,” reminisced Pat, who told me that selling pecans in the fall was the first way she ever made money. She and her siblings (she is one of seven) would name the trees based on the size of their nuts. Fat Belly, Bulldozer, Old Faithful, Slim Jim—the names rolled right off her tongue as if she had been scouring the area just yesterday. “When I say I’m going home, this is where I’m referring to, the land that raised me,” she adds. And so the story begins to unfold: This is more than just farmland; Jennifer is keeping her mother’s memories alive. Now, if you’re wondering what the actress misses most about the South, we’ve asked. (Spoiler: Friday-night football made the short list.)