(Christine Schuster Morley is president of Rio Fresh)
SAN JUAN, TX — Carl Frederick Schuster came to the United States in 1933. His mother, Bertha, could see problems ahead for Europe with the rise of Adolf Hitler, so she decided to send her oldest son to Texas to live with her two brothers, Max and Fred Krenmueller, who had started a farming operation in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas — and that is where Mr. Schuster was headed at the age of 15.
In 1941, he married Wilma Reis. With $900 and a second-hand truck, they started their married life, farming a 25-acre plot south of Alamo, TX — the beginnings of San Juan, TX-based Rio Fresh Inc.
Their family grew to include four children — three girls and one boy — and a farming operation that covered over 3,000 acres of farmland.
Mr. Schuster was always committed to finding a better way to farm and a better way to market. In 1970, a group of farmers got together and created Rio Fresh Inc. They wanted to grow, pack and ship their own produce straight from their fields to the customer.
In the early years, the Rio Fresh group grew the basics — cabbage, dry onions and cantaloupes, with some broccoli and peppers thrown in. Over the past 40 years, things have changed quite a bit. In 1982, the company moved the shed to the farm from its downtown location to reduce the distance that produce would travel before it could be packed and shipped.
Additionally, the ownership has changed during the past 40 years. Rio Fresh is now completely owned by members of the Schuster family. We have also increased the variety of crops we grow to approximately 30 different vegetables and herbs. We have also made many improvements to the shed. We have added cold-room capacity, more packinglines, ice making and ice-distribution equipment as we strive to stay abreast of the newest, safest methods to deliver our produce to our customers.
We harvest to order. If you want product shipped on a Monday, we harvest, pack and ship that same day. Since we grow all of our own produce, we are very aware what we have available and where it is coming from. We rely on our farm to supply Rio Fresh with product grown only in Texas.
Yes, we are proud to be Texans and, of course, Americans first. We realize that the Texas climate, fertile soil and an abundant water supply have created the environment that enables us to do what we do. We are proud to be one of the older family farming-and-packing operations still around in our area, surviving and prospering.
We are also proud of the fact that the majority of ownership of Rio Fresh is female and the president of the corporation is a woman. We currently have nine second- and third-generation family members working either at the shed or on the farm.
Our goal is to get to the fourth generation of our family. Their great-grandparents would be extremely proud of that. We want to continue to plant, pick and pack only Texas produce as long as we can.
It is very rewarding to offer the next generation an opportunity to work in and enjoy the farming life. We feel the very future of the Texas produce business is in their hands, and they will need all the help we can give them just as our ancestors gave it to us.