Roam Ranch

Old Town New Generation

From reviving the land to rehabilitating old homes, restoring architecture and repurposing everyday objects, these four Fredericksburg makers are forging its future by preserving its past

by Hannah J. Phillips
Photographs by Kate Zimmerman Turpin

Katie Forrest and Taylor Collins

When first-generation ranchers Katie Forrest and Taylor Collins purchased bison, it took the animals only two years to begin restoring land that for more than a century had been depleted by human impact. Roam Ranch, 700 acres of land outside Fredericksburg, was considered unsalvageable when the couple discovered it in April 2017. More than 100 years of industrial farming and overgrazing had stripped organic matter from the soil, preventing grass from growing and eliminating biodiversity. “We started with dirt,” Forrest says. “Now we’re making soil.”

The Austin natives met while attending Texas State University and now split their time between Roam Ranch and their home in Austin.

Forrest and Collins educated themselves on regenerative agriculture, a method of holistic land management that opposes industrial involvement. They were determined to prove that responsibly raised livestock could sequester carbon, refill aquifers, produce healthy food, increase biodiversity and heal the soil.

Katie and Taylor are constantly testing and evaluating their soil which has become nutrient-dense since introducing bison, turkeys, chickens and pigs.

Before embarking into the world of agriculture, the pair founded meat-based snack company Epic Provisions. Forrest had suffered from knee inflammation and digestive issues and sought advice from a holistic health practitioner, who recommended a change in diet. The former vegan reintroduced meat into her routine and within several weeks was feeling better.

Recognizing the value in humanely raised, nutrient-dense animal protein helped Epic come to life and inspired the purchase of Roam Ranch. The multispecies ranch serves as an extension of Epic’s values. Bison, pigs, turkeys and chickens each play a different but crucial role in the health of the ranch’s ecosystem. The journey for Forrest and Collins has been circuitous, but the impact of the animals is straightforward. First they healed Forrest, and now they’re healing the land.

– Abby Moore

Russ Thayer

Sculptor Russ Thayer and his family moved to Fredericksburg in 1993. The town has changed a lot since then, he thinks: “The things to see in Fredericksburg that have to do with culture are buried. The architecture and the history of the people that settled here — it’s all still there, under the surface, still determining things, but it’s buried.”

That’s not all bad news for Thayer, whose favorite thing about Fredericksburg is that it’s a great place to hide. Less than a mile from the main Marktplatz, his home studio feels a world away. In the gravel drive, an old cistern — long overgrown with ivy and twisted trees — hides a makeshift tent, where Thayer works outdoors on his stone projects. He’s currently carving new busts and architectural details for the Bexar County Courthouse in San Antonio.

Also a published poet and novelist, Thayer calls the sculptures in his home studio ‘stone poems’: “If I could write what I meant, I would’ve written it down.”

Nearby, his carving shed holds a recently finished decorative frieze, bunches of fruit and leaves in an ornate arrangement. The adjacent shed houses woodworking tools transported from Germany, where he learned his craft from a master carver before moving back to Texas. Thayer is one of the few remaining artists classically trained in stone and woodcarving, and he connects this collective loss of craft to a 21st-century rejection of cultural continuity.

“It just takes one generation without it and then it’s gone,” he says. “People will have to go back and rediscover it, which takes a lot of work. I’m interested in art that’s created by people who actually know history and the material they are working with.”

Lara and Tim Bobo

Designer Lara Bobo traces the creative call of Fredericksburg through several generations: Her grandmother was a handbag designer in town, and her father was a jewelry maker. Likewise, her husband, Tim, grew up on a dairy farm in the area and learned to work with his hands at an early age. The couple moved back to Fredericksburg shortly after they were married, in 2007.

“I think people are drawn by the trees and open fields with cows grazing,” Lara says, “but you also have culture here, with art, coffee shops and great restaurants.”

“We always want to try new things and new materials,” says Lara, “we are continuously honing this craft. Every project blends experience with experimentation.

A recent influx of tourism has brought more opportunities for makers and entrepreneurs: By day, Lara is a partner in her own communications design firm, while Tim recently launched a concrete-pouring company. Now, in addition to their day jobs, they have combined their design and construction experience to restore properties in town. Where others tear down country cottages to make way for mansions, the couple rehabs smaller homes. Their finished designs foster the quiet, uncomplicated lifestyle that attracts people to Fredericksburg in the first place.

“We both really want to approach every area of life with simplicity and intentionality,” she says, “so we create spaces that are functional and versatile, yet conducive to a simpler way of life.

Robert Feuge

Artisan, woodworker and salvage artist Robert Feuge moved to Fredericksburg 20 years ago, in part to focus on timber framing and reconstructing Amish barns from Ohio. This theme of repurposing discarded objects runs throughout his art, which he attributes to time spent playing in the city dump near his childhood home in Kerrville.

“I put two disparate things together and make it work. I take the ordinary and turn it into something that makes people look again,” explains Feuge.

“I think redemption is a big part of everything I do,” he shares, noting that his move to Fredericksburg transformed his work from the provocative to the productive. “Fredericksburg has this unique sense of antiquity,” he says. “It still has its bones, and the basic structure gives a sense of permanence. I think people see a foundation that can be built on within their own terms.”

Feuge’s studio is his playground, a chaotic collection of trinkets and works in progress. A large, intricately carved wooden feather twists in the air above his workbench, one of a series he plans to form into a nest. The walls are lined with sketches and figures, and trumpet vines droop into the window cracks. Inside Feuge’s home, salvaged trees twist gnarled limbs into the ceiling, sturdy but delicate, reclaimed from a ranch in Stonewall. Wilted oaks are a common sight in the area; their great ashen shapes and crooked branches hide among the verdant trees in every field. By stripping them to the core, Feuge breathes new life and purpose into what others might burn or discard.


Read More From the Makers Issue | August 2019


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