Growing up in Yoakum, near the family farm, Morgan Weber wanted little else but to escape to the big city. In 2000, with hardly a backward glance, he left for Baylor University to study music and, after graduating, moved to the bustling, tangled highways of Houston. Yet, here he is today, back on the family farm, happily hosing down his favorite sow, Lucy, who’s just given birth to eight tiny pink piglets.
These are the first pigs to be born on the farm since Weber began raising pigs on the property a year ago, and he is justifiably proud.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in coming out here when I was young. My grandpa was always trying to get me to come out here with him,” Weber muses pensively while looking out over his seven acres of soft, green grass and wildflowers. “Boy, I’d give anything to come out here with him now.” The farm, which has been in Weber’s family for generations, was home to herds of Brahma cattle in his grandpa’s day. “When he died,” Weber explains, “the family didn’t have any interest in continuing to run cattle on the land, so we leased it out and just quit coming out here much.”
When Weber and his wife, Stacey, moved to Houston after college, they began shopping at the farmers market and became sensitive to their foods’ origins. And even though he had no background or experience in butchering, Weber nevertheless became fascinated by the idea of raising and butchering animals humanely and sustainably. In January 2010, Weber visited Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a nonprofit farm, education center and restaurant in Pocantico Hills, New York. There, he saw an inspiring model of sustainably raised animals that were slaughtered humanely and expertly butchered, all by the same operation. Weber returned to Texas convinced that the Houston and Austin communities should have access to high-quality, heirloom-breed meats raised and butchered with this same level of care—Revival Meats was born.
Raising heirloom breeds seemed like a natural choice for the new venture. “It just made so much more sense,” Weber says with conviction. “Heirloom breeds taste better, they’re hardier and they’ve contributed so much to our culinary history. They’ve provided our fresh meat for over 200 years.” Weber’s pig breeds include Mangalitsa, Red Wattle, Gloucestershire Old Spots, Ossabaw and Mulefoot—each with unique qualities that affect the meat produced.
Some breeds are “meat types,” which produce lean meats, and some are “lard types,” which produce high-quality fat and extensively marbled, juicy, flavorful meat. Weber explains that the Mulefoot, a highly endangered black breed with a hoof like a mule’s, “has a really nice, big jowl and great marbling.” And the Red Wattle, sporting two distinctive lobes of flesh hanging down just below the ears, “are huge, with a really nice shoulder and a phenomenal growth rate.” The Old Spots are a traditional bacon breed—the breed preferred by British royalty. The Ossabaws, descendants of Spanish pigs brought to the New World more than 400 years ago, are smaller, with lots of fat, and what Weber describes as an exceptional example of a lard-type breed. And finally, the curly-haired Mangalitsa breed, also known as the “wooly pig,” was bred in 1833 by the Hungarian Royal Archduke Jozsef. They’re an extreme lard type—a highly specialized breed that produces some of the world’s most juicy and flavorful meat and fat prized by chefs and artisanal charcuterie makers.
Nature certainly contributes to the incomparable flavor profile of Revival Meats pork, but Weber believes nurture is just as important. The pigs forage for roots, acorns and pecans in the field, as well as rye, Bermuda and Bahia grasses. To supplement the forage, Weber offers a special feed blend containing primarily barley—no GMO grain, nor corn or soy—because he believes that barley produces a nice, clean fat and a deeper, richer flavor in the meat.
With 75 pigs on the farm’s current seven acres, Weber feels the animal density is as concentrated as he’s willing to make it. By 2011, his goal is to expand onto more land so that the pigs are foraging even more and eating less feed. He envisions 80 to 90 pigs on 20 to 30 acres. At that point, the current farm would then be used as a breeding property.
Thus far, eager customers have had access to Revival Meats through Houston- and Austin-area chefs and food purveyors, as well as at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market in Houston. But Weber’s dream, soon to be realized, is a storefront market to close the circle from farm to plate. Revival Market, a joint venture with Chef Ryan Pera, formerly of The Grove, is set to open in the Houston Heights neighborhood in January. The all-locally sourced market will feature Revival Meats pork, as well as beef, lamb, turkey, chicken and game from local ranches. The market’s butcher shop will allow Weber and Pera to bring in whole animals to produce specialty cuts, cured deli meats, fresh sausages and housemade charcuterie. Local cheeses, prepared foods, freshly baked breads, locally roasted coffees, pickles and preserves will be available as well.
On this lovely autumn day, Weber stands looking at the newborn piglets wobbling on tiny, unsteady legs, the barn he built himself, the acres of carefully managed pasture and the happy, healthy animals in the fields. He muses about how far he’s come since he left home all those years ago—a journey that brought him right back to his roots.
“I guess I’ve come full circle,” he says. No doubt, Grandpa would be proud.