Exclusive: The Schuster Family Discusses Rio Fresh's Growth
SAN JUAN, TX - When I sat down to speak with the Schuster Family of Rio Fresh, I was immediately overwhelmed. Not by the vast amount of information they gave me, but by the genuine passion I heard in the family members' voices. As someone who is new to the industry, I’m continuously humbled by the spirit of everyone involved—so full of determination to grow a healthier world alongside others who do the same. Rio Fresh’s operation is a special one. From growing produce to selling it, the family running the company has been farming in South Texas for over 85 years.
“We're one of the few, true family farms left in our area that grows, packs, and ships our own produce. My dad is the grower and my brother, cousins, and I sell the produce,” said Courtney Schuster of Sales. “Our sales team is in the field every day looking at the crops and working with the farming team to make sure that we have what our customers want. We have a real focus on farming and growing. It's just kind of in our DNA.”
Courtney went on to tell me that while Rio Fresh is in a period of growth and change, the family still sits down to eat lunch together every day at the farm headquarters, just as they’ve done for the past 75 years. The cook pulls from the trial garden and their grandfather’s newly-restored, 70-year-old greenhouse. Over the farm table, they discuss what they most enjoyed and what customers might enjoy. Aside from brainstorming new offerings, the company is also invested in its environmental impact.
“This land has been in our family for over 75 years and we want to continue farming for generations to come. We’re transitioning more and more land to drip systems that help conserve water. We’re increasing our usage of cover crops to improve our soil health. We’re even experimenting with composting our packing waste so we can use that and become more sustainable through the whole product life cycle,” Farming Director Fred Schuster shared. “We’ve done a lot of different things to make sure that our farm is productive and healthy for years to come. Our efforts to become Organic certified also align with this long-term commitment to the land. There are practices on the organic side that we can try out and utilize that will also make us stronger on the conventional side.”
This tremendous growth and change also extends to the packing side of Rio Fresh’s operation.
“We want everything to look as good as it did in the field,” says Salesman, Taylor Schuster. “In our greens shed, we've upped our cooling capacity and invested in new hydro-coolers that double how quickly we can get things cooled from the field, extending shelf life significantly. In our onion shed, we’re transitioning to new drying systems that remove moisture more efficiently and get that onion where we want it to be. We’re also increasing our packing capabilities and storage capacity. Everything is focused on overcoming the challenges we face as growers and ensuring freshness and quality for our customers.”
“We want people to have the same experience as we do when we enjoy something we brought in from the field that very day,” General Manager Christine Schuster Morley added. Christine also mentioned that the company is certified as a Women-Owned Business, which is something it has worked toward for years.
It is clear that the family’s hearts are firmly rooted in their long history as growers, but they are also focused on evolving and growing to ensure they can do this for generations to come. Because it’s more than a business to the Schuster family—it’s a way of life. Rio Fresh’s greens season is right around the corner, starting at the end of October, and will be kicking off its onion season in February. For more inspiring stories in produce, stick with us at AndNowUKnow.