The land on which G&S Groves resides in McAllen, Texas has been in the Strohmeyer family for nearly a century. George and Elizabeth originally ran the land as a farm with livestock, and its first planted grove was wiped out by a great drought in the 1930s. But today, the business and its groves are thriving more than ever.
Not only can you find its citrus fruits through produce suppliers like Johnson’s Backyard Garden and Greenling, but also taste and smell their juicy essence in a wide variety of products – from candles and perfumes to some of our favorite seasonal ice cream flavors, including Tequila Lime Pie, Fresh Oranges & Fennel, and Sweet Lemon, Gin & Juniper.
G&S Groves is now run by the original owners’ grandson and wife, Dave and Bonnie, and Dave’s parents, David and Beverly. And although a lot has changed since the early 1900s, the farm is still a family operation and is still certified organic.
“They were right on the forefront of how to be organic and what’s organic,” Dave said. “They didn’t want to do conventional style - they wanted something pesticide free.”
The difference, Dave says, is that conventional citrus fruits are grown using pesticides, gassed to ripen, dyed to hide imperfections and waxed to shine.
Another part of how Dave’s grandparents set out to do things differently was to cut out the middle man of a broker and sell directly to buyers. What started out as a small gift fruit business grew through word of mouth, and so the family bought an additional tract of land and moved the operations side of the business to Austin, where Dave runs sales and marketing.
“Everybody’s friends [in McAllen], and it’s hard to do business with friends, so we decided to move everything up to Austin and split up the business,” Dave said.
Now, G&S Groves sells around 500-600 tons of citrus fruit, from Rio Red grapefruit and navel oranges to tangerines, Meyer lemons and limes. Although G&S Groves has grown a lot since its humble beginnings, part of Dave’s job that he enjoys is helping out other small business get their start. With a background in technology, it’s his second nature to solve problems.
Similarly, customers often help Dave figure out what they can do with the experimental produce they grow. Their lemons, for example, used to always be given away to friends. But when Dave started gauging customers’ interest and asking what they can do with these tart fruits, they had enough ideas and interest to convince Dave to start selling them.
“They’re my customers, but they also help me with my business,” Dave said.
Because G&S Groves predominantly sells to larger produce companies, Dave doesn’t necessarily know where all the fruits of his labor go. It’s not uncommon for him to walk into a restaurant and see his company’s name on the menu, he says, but it never gets old. Other businesses surprise Dave with ways they use their citrus fruits, and loves tasting them in various forms and dishes – from salads to liqueurs to, of course, ice cream.
“I don’t know how they do it, but the flavor of the citrus in [Lick’s] products is just unbelievable,” Dave said.
Besides their regular citrus fruits, G&S Groves may soon be offering blood oranges and subtropical fruits like kaffir limes. Dave’s personal favorite comes from their recent tract purchase where tangerine trees were already growing. Although his wife Beverly didn’t seem too keen on the idea of purchasing more land, he could tell her mind was changed when he saw her drive into the grove, pick a tangerine and throw the skin out the other window, one after the other.
Citrus season at G&S Groves lasts a little longer than most others, Dave said, because they don’t pick the fruit until they’re ready. Although he doesn’t spend much time on the land anymore, Dave’s favorite part of his job is when he can drive the tractor and work the land.
“The trees are green for about a month, there are bees everywhere, there’s fragrance and aromas,” Dave said. “You can tell when you get near [the groves], and it’s just beautiful.”
His kids also love the groves and have each expressed interest in eventually running the business. Sometimes, he catches a glimpse of not only how much his family’s business has taught his kids, but also how much it means to them. When he recently visited his daughter in California, he was amazed at how methodical she was when picking her fruits at the store, telling her friends that she didn’t want any that had been dyed.
“Before that, I didn’t realize she was listening to what I was saying,” Dave said.
Dave has told his kids that he does not expect them to take over the business. But considering the dedication and passion that has been running behind it through generations, it’s probably safe to say that people will be getting organic citrus from G&S Groves – and from the Strohmeyers – for years to come.