The sunrise over the Strohmeyer family’s citrus groves in McAllen tinges the tiny white blossoms with pink and gold. Between the trees, the air is thick with the fragrance of the blooms: sweet and bright, like the grapefruits and oranges that will soon replace them. It was the same heady aroma that convinced George and Elizabeth Strohmeyer to stay in the Rio Grande Valley in the 1930s and plant a citrus grove. And today, their descendants sell more than 100,000 bushels of organic avocados, mangoes, limes, lemons, oranges, tangerines and grapefruits each year to customers across the country.
The business is named “G and S Groves” and the “G” stands for “George,” who was not able to realize his dream of successful citrus farming. When a late-’30s drought followed by a freeze wiped out his original grove, he instead began a dairy operation and planted row crops: cotton, beets and turnips. The “S” in the name stands for “sons” and, later, a grandson and great-grandchildren. The seventh of George’s nine children, David Strohmeyer, 76, lives on the farm today in the same house where he was born. A military career took him around the world, and when he contemplated retirement, he and his wife, Beverly, decided to return to the family’s roots. David had purchased the farm from his father in the 1960s, and he and Beverly planted the first trees of today’s groves in 1994.
The trees began to produce a few years later, and in the early 2000s, David and his then-business partner decided to sell citrus online. They had a ready consultant in David’s son Dave, who was working in Austin’s tech industry. Dave nudged his father toward developing a website that would accept credit card payments, allowing them to sell to customers as far away as Maine. “At first, my dad was totally convinced people were going to write checks,” Dave says wryly. Soon, the two generations decided to run the company together. Contracts with Austin metro’s Johnson’s Backyard Garden and Greenling (now Farmhouse Delivery) helped the business expand, and G and S also began selling wholesale to juicing companies and grocery stores.
While David and Beverly currently live full-time on the family land, Dave and his wife, Bonnie, split their time between Austin and the farm in McAllen. Together, the two generations oversee the maintenance and pollination of the trees and the harvesting and packing of the fruit—a year-round job that sometimes demands 16-hour days. Dave and Bonnie’s four college-age children help out on school breaks and have indicated they want to continue the family business, too.
G and S Groves has always been an organic farm, so the Strohmeyers eschew conventional pesticides and herbicides. Their biggest headache is weed growth, which they address by spraying soybean oil on weeds and grass when the weather is hot and the plants are already under stress. Once coated with soybean oil, the weeds heat up even more in the sun and start to die. Then the Strohmeyers can cut and mulch the weeds with a disc—turning them back into the soil. To control insects that affect the skin of the fruit, a spray of organic sulfur and water is used on the canopy of the trees. “Organic farming is like farming in the 1930s,” David says. “It’s not farming like people do today. You don’t use all the chemicals and fertilizers.”
Like every Texas farmer, the Strohmeyers contend with the caprices of the weather—droughts are often followed by floods and hailstorms. In July 2008, Hurricane Dolly passed right over the farm, stripping the trees and flooding the groves with at least four feet of water. But Dave remembers one weather event that appeared disastrous at first but actually had a fortuitous twist. One holiday season when his children were young, the family traveled from Austin, where the forecast included snow, to McAllen, where the kids’ dreams of a white Christmas faded. But the snow—more than six inches of it—skipped Austin and fell on the Valley instead. “My kids were super happy, building snowmen in front of the trees,” Dave says. “And all I could think about was that we just lost everything. But it turned out we didn’t lose any fruit! The snow actually helped us because it killed the bugs that chew on the rinds of the fruit, so we had a really good crop the next year.”
Mother Nature, the complexities of the organic certification process and the increase in theft, of both equipment and fruit, across the Valley be damned—the Strohmeyers wouldn’t have it any other way. Things like the annual ambrosia of the blooms are a constant comfort. Of course, there’s also one perk of the job that will never change: “If you’re driving along and you see an orange,” David says, “you can get off the tractor and eat the orange. That’s my favorite thing about farming.”
By Robyn Ross
Find out more at gandsgroves.com or call 512-246-0778. Visit the G and S Groves roadside stand: 8221 North Ware Rd., McAllen. November 25 to mid-March or mid-April (or until the fruit is gone), 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 1–5 p.m. Sunday.