KH Farm owners Growers of the YearFree Access

For 2019 Poteet Strawberry Growers of the Year Vance and Ruth Ann Schultze, the farming life is a way to stay connected to family.

“It brings me back to my dad. My dad is with me all the time when I’m here,” Ruth said about her father, the late Kenneth Hoffman who passed away in 2016.

Vance and Ruth Ann Schultze of KH Farm are this year’s Growers of the Year. They are shown with their grandchildren, Bowen and Hadley Walla.

He is the namesake of their farm, KH Farm, at 200 W. Tank Hollow Rd. in Poteet. Ruth wishes that her father was still alive to see them receive the honor.

“It brings me back to Daddy and I guess the whole aspect of being in the country, basically living the perfect life. We could have a little bit more money, but…,” Ruth said.

Her mother was the late Ora Lee Hoffman, who passed away in 2007. The family has a lot of strawberry royalty and grower history. Ora Lee was named Poteet Contributor of the Year in 1988, the same year Kenneth was named the Grower of the Year. Ruth’s brother-in-law Ronnie Wheeler was also a Grower of the Year.

Her sister Linda Wheeler was Poteet Strawberry Festival Queen in 1966 and brother Robert Hoffman was King in 1968. Ruth Ann was Queen in 1976. The Schultze’s daughter, Kristen Walla was Princess in 2006. She resides in Poteet and handles much of the family’s social media posts on Facebook and Instagram. Their son Joshua Schultze lives in Austin and works for Facebook, so he also assists with social media. Vance and Ruth Ann are blessed with two grandchildren, Hadley and Bowen Walla.

Vance is from Seguin and wed Ruth Ann in 1980. They moved to the farm in 1982.

As children, Ruth Ann and her brother used to get up early in the morning to make as many flats as they could for an hour before school. She especially learned the customer service aspect of farming, meeting customers and was often in the packing shed, grading berries.

“I learned what hard work was. Daddy was a hard worker. His main crop was strawberries, but then he had Cayenne peppers as another main crop,” said Ruth Ann.

They also sold plants to Bonnie Plant Farms and okra to Talk of Texas. Her father was born and raised in Somerset on a nursery/farm. He and Ruth’s grandfather grew many flowers. However, the bottom dropped out of the flower market, so Kenneth started raising peppers and okra. They also had a huge amount of blackberries at one point and peaches.

“He was very aggressive when it came to making money, but he was also very good at figuring out what was going to make it and what was going to break it,” said Ruth Ann.

This year, Ruth Ann and Vance planted three acres of strawberries.

“The first year it was more of a family event. As we have progressed and I’ve grown, it has become a family/worker or whoever I can grab event.”

The first year they had 8,000 plants, and then 15-16,000 the second year and now they are almost at 50,000 plants. “We have some really good hands and they know exactly what they are doing. They actually worked for my dad and then they worked for Ronnie.” She credits Ronnie for his assistance.

“If it weren’t for my brother-in-law holding my hand, and telling me every step to take, I would not be where I am right now,” Ruth Ann said. “It is very much a family supported situation. Robert’s been my great supporter, especially when times were tough, as well as helping me get all of the supplies for my jelly.”

This year marked the third year that KH Farm hosted their pick-your-own season opener event, which brings out many visitors. The event on March 23 featured many children’s activities, food vendors and more. Ruth Ann and Vance love how it offers the community and surrounding area a chance to take home good memories. It is all about the children.

Vance said, “They come to town because it is an event to go out to the country and take pictures of the kids, and so it’s an outing. Strawberries are just a part of that, it’s not everything.”

Ruth Ann pointed out that the younger generation, those her daughter’s age, are looking for outings to take their children. They don’t mind driving, as long as there is something to do. Many families now consider the season openers a new family tradition. “I’m also learning it gives grandparents an opportunity to be with the grandkids.”

The event brings many from San Antonio, those in the military and even others on vacation from other countries. The farm is a full-time job for Ruth Ann.

Her husband holds a degree in Fisheries Ecology. They have had Tank Hollow Fisheries since 1982.

Ruth Ann said she has a hard time being the boss and delegating work. She prefers being in the field.

“If someone is going to mess up it’s going to be me that messes up, not someone else. Like I said, it is my responsibility. It is my reputation on the line.”

With the festival so near, what the berries need now is sunshine, and lately there has been a lot of overcast, especially with the cool front that blew in on Saturday.

“That’s been the problem. They are not going to be as sweet if we don’t have sun. The issue also was that we got these plants about three weeks later than normal. So, those two freezes that we had, even though it didn’t set the plants back, it set everything else back freezing many of the blooms.”

Vance said, “It causes a gap in there. When you lose that one set of blooms it causes a little gap in there where those blooms should have been strawberries.”

Ruth said, “We’ll probably have that lull next week or the week after.” Whatever challenges come her way, she is doing what she loves.

She and Vance pointed out that her parents died within two days of each other (in different years) during the month of April. Both passed away after the festival.

The Schultze family also grows thornless blackberries, peaches, plums, pears, pomegranates, peachcots and they also have a big citrus orchard. Vance enjoys the research involved on produce that is a little different.

Vance said, “A lot of peach varieties up here are A&M’s last 48 experimental varieties and being an Aggie, I get together with them and we do a lot of the experimental work on varieties that they are working with. It helps both of us. They supply us with the plants and some knowledge and we’re the first ones that get to try the plants and see if they work.”

Ruth said, “And we get all the benefits from it. If they produce, we can sell them.” They also grow blackeyed peas and onions. Ronnie looks out for them, sharing advice on what to try out.

Ruth Ann said, “And if it works, he always has a suggestion of where to sell it, because he was doing it before.”

In March of 1987, her father’s contract with H-E-B began and the Poteet strawberry ice cream was in the stores in April 1987. Ruth’s Uncle Glenn was very instrumental in getting all the details worked out.

Vance said, “He was trying to create a market for all the strawberries he was growing.”

Ruth followed, “Because at the time, it was hard to sell strawberries. Daddy would pack up the big truck dragging me along and go to Hondo or to Uvalde and set up on the side of the road, or go to somewhere on the southside of San Antonio.”

Ronnie Wheeler later had the ice cream contract, followed by Cora Lamar.

Ruth Ann explained how it was the early 1970s when her dad experimented with “cold storage” plants. This is when Kenneth started getting plants from California.

Until then, local growers had been saving their own plants each year by taking the most vigorous runners and saving them from year to year. The cold storage plants freed the berry grower from the hard task of saving the plants from year to year, as well as not having to worry as much about the weaknesses, including diseases, of the original plant that they saved. This was much more economical and successful. They were insured bigger, better and much more prolific plants. This was a turning point in the strawberry production of Poteet, making it more successful. Kenneth would take the orders from the other farmers and, with his money, order all the plants for them.

“When he finally found them in California, he did that for years,” Ruth Ann said.

Kenneth’s love of farming no doubt made its way into his children’s lives and this year’s Growers of the Year, Vance and Ruth Ann Schultze.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *