On Sundays at the Pedernales Farmers Market in Spicewood, you’ll often find Tina and Orion Weldon, the young ranchers behind TerraPurezza, a regenerative agriculture farm and institute that started 5 years ago.
The Weldons, new parents who met at a climate change protest in 2014 in Manhattan and spent their first date watching TED Talks on the environment, started their business on 5 acres of Orion’s family land in 2015.
After two years, they co-founded the farmers market as an avenue to sell heritage pork and pastured chicken and eggs alongside more than a dozen other producers, from bakers and honey-makers to vegetable farmers and prepared food vendors.
A few months ago, during the thick of the coronavirus pandemic, one of their customers, Annie Nelson, stopped by the TerraPurezza booth.
Willie Nelson’s wife had been shopping incognito at the market for a few years, often stopping by the Weldons’ booth to learn about their commitment to using agricultural processes that mimic the natural cycle of the land.
Former academics, the Weldons’ passion for creating a place for others to learn about regenerative agriculture is compelling. They animate when talking about how rejuvenating soil health through heritage animals, including ruminants whose hooves naturally aerate the earth, can help combat climate change.
A fellow environmentalist, Nelson was interested in how these premodern and indigenous practices could be implemented on her family’s 500-acre ranch just a few miles away.
On this Sunday in May, Nelson finally introduced herself to Tina and Orion and their 2-month-old baby boy. She asked if they might be interested in helping transform the Nelsons’ family garden, so she invited them to the Luck Ranch to check it out.
"After the market, the three of us trucked over to Luck Ranch," Orion Weldon says. "We talked about the philosophy of land and soil, and then she said, ‘We’ve been watching you for about four years, and we wanted to make sure you (can do) what you claim you do. We’d like you to create a regenerative farm on Luck Ranch.’"
All 500 acres of it.
"We were flabbergasted," he says.
About a month later, the Weldons were moving a sounder of breeding pigs over to the Luck Ranch, and they were quickly having litters and raising them on the new land. "This has been huge. Huge," he says.
TerraPurezza’s original five acres now serve as the family homestead, and in recent years, the Weldons have contracted with landowners to create two other campuses, including on the Shield Ranch outside Austin.
But this third campus is its highest-profile yet. The Nelson family, particularly Willie, who co-founded Farm Aid in 1985, has been vocal about supporting American farmers and ranchers, and to have them as advocates for regenerative agriculture will change the conversation about sustainable farming, Orion Weldon says.
Many of the 500 acres at Luck Ranch, like much of the Hill Country, are in a tenuous spot, with exposed caliche subsoil and shallow-rooted ashe juniper trees. The property had long ago been overgrazed, with the topsoil eroding over the past 150 years, Orion Weldon says.
"That wasn’t what it was like 100 years ago," he says. "We had beautiful prairie grasses that were maintained by wild bison, pronghorns and elk and white-tailed deer."
Regenerative agriculture means creating a biomimicry of these conditions, but you can’t start with ruminants like cattle and sheep because there isn’t enough for them to eat. Pigs, which do not graze on grass and have nutrient-dense manure, are the first step in revitalizing the land, though.
Tina Weldon says that’s why they started with the pigs, and later this year they’ll introduce chickens and then cover crops and native seed mixes. After two growing seasons, they should be able to bring in light grazers, like sheep, and eventually cattle.
The Shield Rock campus, which they started working on a year and a half ago, now has a small flock of sheep. "When we got there, we wouldn’t have been able to have sheep because there wasn’t enough to eat," Tina Weldon says. "But now they can forage off the vegetation that has grown," with rotational grazing taking them to a new pasture every seven days.
At their homestead property near Spicewood, they wake up each morning and see the benefits of this kind of agricultural work.
"It’s beautiful," Tina Weldon says. "It takes particular conditions for the diversity of native grasses to be able to take root, and now we’re able to see that."
Sharing this knowledge with other ranchers and farmers is a key part of TerraPurezza’s mission, but the coronavirus pandemic has put a temporary pause on their butchering classes and ag workshops. Orion Weldon says he hopes to resume those classes in 2021, and he’s already looking a little further ahead.
"This will change the trajectory of the institute to be on Luck Ranch," he says. "It will take a while to implement, but we foresee our institute offices, classes and workshops on Luck Ranch."
You can follow updates about the TerraPurezza move to Luck Ranch at terrapurezza.com, and you can find them at the Wednesday farmers market in Dripping Springs. Customers can also find their chicken on the menu at Thai Fresh, Emmer & Rye and Hestia.