In 1929, during the heart of the Great Depression, a group of citrus growers around Edinburg, TX, first put forth the idea of forming a collective to market their products. In June of 1932, growers from across the Rio Grande Valley turned that dream into a reality when they met and signed the first contracts that formed the Edinburg Citrus Association — now the only existing fresh citrus cooperative in the state of Texas.
During the upcoming 2011-12 season, the association will be celebrating its 80th year in the Texas citrus industry.
“And what a history it has been, filled with vision, fortitude and passion, characteristics that are still an integral part of this company,” said Marketing Director Paula Fouchek. “While there will always be challenges in any business — and we have had our share with hurricanes, freezes, floods and droughts through the years — the organization’s growers had the fortitude to meet those challenges and not only persevered but prospered.”
The cooperative’s growers have responded to natural disasters with true Texas resilience by replanting after crises and having the foresight to commit to then-new varieties. One example is the Ruby Red grapefruit, a happy accident that Valley growers capitalized on, patenting it the same year the association’s forefathers first thought of banding together. Over time, other red varieties have evolved both naturally and through the intervention of researchers. The cooperative’s current star is the Rio Star, a consumer favorite around the world.
“We are known for our sweeter, red grapefruit,” said General Manager Jeff Arnold. “The progression of sweet, red grapefruit from the Ruby Red found back in 1929 to the current Rio Star has really defined the uniqueness of the fruit grown in our area and what we specialize in at ECA.”
Along with its famous grapefruit, the association also takes pride in its variety of sweet oranges, which, like all citrus from the growing area’s semi-tropical climate, are full of juice and are thinner-skinned than oranges grown elsewhere.
Many of the association’s growers are second- and third-generation farmers, with family roots stretching back to the formative days. Together, they represent thousands of acres stretching from the Gulf Coast to the western growing areas of the Rio Grande Valley.
“‘Passionate’ is a word used often to describe our growers,” Ms. Fouchek said. “Together, they are committed to growing great fruit — truly offering the fruits of their labor.”
The association continues to grow, increasing its orange and grapefruit acreage for the coming season. Quality remains paramount as it always has been, and Mr. Arnold spends his days working with growers in the groves to ensure peak performance.
Jeff Husfeld recently rejoined the sales department after an absence of several years. Previously, he worked with Kroger’s buying office in the Valley and was responsible for sourcing and procuring produce from Texas, Mexico and Colorado. He was also a marketing specialist for the Texas Department of Agriculture.
“We are very pleased to welcome Jeff back to our sales team,” said Sales Manager Ruben Shives. “His involvement in various aspects of agriculture, retail and sales is highly beneficial to our program.”
Regardless of how progressive the association may become, how much it may grow or how far forward technology may take it, the ECA remains steeped in history and dedicated to preserving its legacy. One can see that evolution via the various labels it has chosen to represent its products over the years.
The “Tropic Moon” label was the first one selected by the newly formed board of directors back in 1932, and it is still in use today. Other brand names like “Gangway” and “Tarzan” followed soon after, and a few years later, “Tropic Valley,” “Edinburg’s Best” and “Wildman” were added. If some of the brands sound like relics from a different era, it’s because they are. While the “Tarzan”, “Wildman” and “Gangway” labels went the way of penny candy and silent movies, the other labels are still in use today, along with newer additions “Rio Sweet” and “Mission Pride.”
In fact, the “Tropic Moon” label has proved particularly durable. After 70 years in service, it got a facelift in 2004. Cartons and bags featuring the label were overhauled as well.
“We felt that a newer, fresher look after all those years was merited,” said Ms. Fouchek. “The fresh tropical look has been very well-received and certainly provides our customers with a bold and colorful display throughout the fall, winter and early spring months when our fruit is available.”