Debra Medina, 2010 Republican candidate for governor of Texas, is chasing a goat named Dolly through her Wharton barn. It’s milking time, and the white Saanen with perky ears isn’t having it. As she approaches Dolly, green leash in hand, Medina appears a little flustered. The goat scurries into a corner, then vaults aggressively up a wall, trying to put herself out of reach. “Stop … stop … STOP!” Medina says, almost pleading with the stubborn animal.
For a moment, the two regard each other. Then, in a maneuver straight out of American Gladiators, the 54-year-old hikes up her jean shorts and bum-rushes her target, pinning Dolly squarely against the pen before dragging her around the corner and plopping her onto a milking station.
Struggle over, the two visibly relax. Medina rests her head against Dolly’s ribcage, takes a deep breath, and rhythmically massages the goat’s udders. This morning routine, Medina tells a visitor through the hazy April sunshine, is “a little bit of a rodeo.” The goat, soothed, stares into the distance. As her milk cascades into a green cup below—soon to be chilled and consumed by the household—the only other sound is a couple of other dairy goats nearby, munching on soy-free Texas feed.
It wasn’t long ago that the former Wharton County GOP chairwoman was engaged in a battle of another kind. Six years prior, Medina—Tea Partier, former Ron Paul volunteer—stormed into the governor’s race and siphoned off 19 percent of her party’s primary vote, taking hard lines on immigration and property rights while out-debating GOP standard-bearers Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison. The Guardian even dubbed her “a Texan version of Sarah Palin.”
Of course, Medina lost that race to Perry. Then, in 2014, she ran for state comptroller and lost again. Licking her wounds from another defeat, she began to recognize just how draining running for statewide office can be, emotionally and financially. It wears on you, she says—the rallies and committee hearings, media requests and fish fries, donor calls and lengthy road trips. Medina uses words like “constant” and “all-consuming” to describe the experience, one that wasn’t easy on her husband of 34 years, Noe, or their two adult children.
After wrapping her campaign for comptroller, Medina made the choice to recharge her batteries in relative anonymity. “Okay Debra, really?” she remembers thinking. “You’ve done this enough. Your business has suffered enough, you need to get back into the business of earning a living.” Both Medina and her husband work full-time, he as an office manager at a sand-filtration plant and she as the head of her own medical-consulting company.
But there was something else she’d been wanting to turn her attention toward, too: the four-acre plot of land abutting an oxbow lake that her family purchased 24 years ago. While crisscrossing Texas to campaign, Medina had met lots of people concerned about food safety and sourcing ingredients locally, a topic today’s conservatives—with their distrust of big government and emphasis on self-reliance—have gravitated toward.
It was familiar territory to Medina. With her coiffed brown hair, thick forearms and winning smile, she’s a farm girl through and through, a Daughter of the Texas Revolution who woke up every day in her hometown of Beeville to milk a Guernsey cow. She’s also both a registered nurse and a foodie, dedicated to wellness and interested in gustatory pleasures.
After discovering they couldn’t find anyone producing pastured poultry anywhere between Houston and Victoria, in April 2014, the Medinas started the sustainable, biodynamic Medina Farm. And they revel in the labor it demands as well as the fruit that it bears. “I’m not too good at leisure,” Debra says, yanking a juicy loquat from a low-hanging branch and peeling it with precision.
Besides the barn, the property boasts a tidy brick house, an organic garden (tomatoes, potatoes, greens) and giant pecan trees. At the moment, its residents include 50 hens, 35 broiler chickens, the milk goats, a temperamental male goat, geese, ducks, and a trespassing raccoon that Medina trapped overnight, luring it with a marshmallow.
On most Mondays, Medina processes broiler chickens a few dozen yards from her bedroom. Where four steel cones are pinned to a fence, the birds are dropped in headfirst, sliced clean at the carotid artery, plucked, eviscerated and shrink-wrapped. She sold a few at her medical-consulting company’s storefront to start, a makeshift market that intrigued and confused passersby. “People walked in,” she says, “and went, ‘Is this an office? A retail space? What is this?!’”
But Medina has big plans for her farm. Starting this summer, its bounty will stock Provisions, a bistro the Medinas are opening in downtown Wharton, inside a converted bank. It will be the town’s first fine-dining restaurant, 40 seats large with exposed-brick walls and space for a small market, serving organic food at breakfast and lunch. Aside from the chickens, Medina will personally source eggs and herbs, with nearby vendors stocking the rest of the kitchen. “If a lawyer from Houston comes in with a client, he’s comfortable there,” she says. “But so are the moms on their moms’ day out when the kids are in daycare.”
It’s a lot, Medina knows: running her own company as well as a farm, and now, starting a restaurant and store—almost, she laughs, as time-consuming and energy-sucking as campaigning. Whether she has another race in her is anyone’s guess, but for now, it seems to be the furthest thing from her mind. “I bury myself in so much farm work,” she says, “that I don’t have time to think about politics.”