Jillian Beck 2016-05-30 12:48:01
Home on the Range A San Antonio attorney navigates the law and the land. Susana Canseco has spent many mornings and afternoons surveying her cattle as they graze on grassy pastures lined with rows of pecan trees. It’s a stark contrast to most lawyers’ days, but for the San Antonio water and real estate law attorney, being outdoors and working with animals has been reality for the past several years. Canseco owns Rancho Ojo de Agua, which raises and sells grass-fed beef and recycled feedsack tote bags. Two years out of law school and nearing the end of a federal clerkship, Canseco found herself constantly browsing farmers markets, peppering producers with questions about their consciously raised meats and locally grown fruits and vegetables. The South Texas native was no stranger to homegrown goods, having spent much of her youth on her family’s cattle ranch in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, just across the border from her childhood home in Del Rio. But this new fascination was different. “It just kind of hit me,” she said. “We have this ranch, we raise grass-fed cattle, and here I am going to a farmers market, buying someone else’s grass-fed beef.” Her entrepreneurial husband and creative mother jumpstarted the idea for the business, encouraging Canseco to get it off the ground. Canseco and her husband launched the company’s marketing arm and her mother got to work manufacturing tote bags made of recycled feedsacks depicting colorful animals. Shuttling around products at horse shows, farmers markets, and stores—at times unloading 1,000 pounds of beef by herself—forced Canseco to take a break from the law. But last May, she plunged headfirst back into her practice, leading the Branscomb attorney to plan on scaling back her management role with the ranch and encouraging her mother to take on more responsibility. She will continue to consult and, of course, taste test. What led you to get started with the grass-fed beef and tote bag business? The answer is more of a “who.” My mother and my husband—she is a creative idea person and he is an entrepreneurial implementer. I got swooped up for the ride. My mother got excited about manufacturing a line of tote bags from repurposed feedsacks from our ranch. My husband and I formed the company to market those bags. At the same time, we started producing another product line from our ranch—grass-fed beef, which was something I had always fantasized about doing but never would have attempted without his encouragement. What are some common misconceptions people have about grass-fed beef? People often don’t appreciate how much higher quality our product is than store-bought meat. Tell us about the process of raising cattle and producing the beef. Our cattle all come from my family’s ranch in Mexico, near Acuña. My mother runs that ranch, which sells weanling calves every year. My business buys weanling calves from that ranch, and we continue to raise them on grass in Devine, Texas, for at least another year and a half. We lease pastureland for that part of the process. We then take them to a small family-run slaughterhouse and processor called Uvalde Meat Market & Processing. We’ve sold through farmers markets, to individuals and families, to restaurants, online—you name it. What was it like growing up having your family’s ranch? I loved the ranch. Mostly I was obsessed with horses. All I wanted to do was ride. Cattle were just in the background. Sometimes I got to tag along on roundups and that was fun. I also loved swimming in the creeks, tanks, and lake; fishing; taking walks; playing in the mud; exploring; collecting rocks; and riding around in the back of the truck. My childhood memories of the ranch are inextricably intertwined with memories of my father, who died when I was a teenager. It was his ranch, he loved it very much, and he was a really good rancher. That’s a big part of the reason we keep this up. Does your water law practice ever overlap with raising cattle? Definitely. The most clear-cut example was working on a matter related to the same irrigation system we happened to use on our pasture lease. In a more general sense, my experience as a rancher helps me understand the concerns of our landowner clientele. Have you learned any lessons from starting and running the business? Too many to count. Though I grew up with it, going into the ranching business myself has been an invaluable immersion in the challenges that business owners and ranchers face. I think it helps make me a better lawyer. What has been your favorite part of it all? There’s something rewarding about hard physical labor and feeling like you’ve accomplished and produced something at the end of the day.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
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