Russon Holbrook lived the go-go life of international banking and financial services. It meant many days away from his family, managing investment portfolios and relations with frequent trips to Mexico. In 2013, Holbrook gave all of that up and did something he vowed never to do.
He returned to the Rio Grande Valley. The lure of the Holbrook farming legacy in the Valley brought him back. It started with his grandfather, Don, who brought his family to the region in the mid-1950s, then continuing to his father, Dennis, and now on its third generation with Russon. The Holbrook name is intertwined with the history of farming and agriculture operations in the McAllen/Mission area.
“That blood runs thick,” Russon said of his family’s 60-plus years in the Valley. “The roots run deep.”
Russon today offices out of a country store setting on the corner of Three Mile and Taylor roads on the McAllen/Mission boundary line. The country store is one of two Earth Born Markets that he and his wife, Emily, own and operate. The other location is at the Palm Crossing shopping center, a high-end retail destination in McAllen. The two stores offer sharp contrasts in presentation – rural versus urban – but share a common goal of living Earth Born’s motto: Eat less out of a box and more from the Earth.
The Palms Crossing store features bowls of fruits and vegetables and smoothie-like blends that include everything from kale and spinach to avocados and mango. Both locations feature a wide array of cold-pressed juices that blend together all of the best fruits and vegetables into several delicious choices. The Taylor Road store is old school with fresh citrus juices and produce from the Holbrook family’s organically grown groves.
“We want to show that fresh is the best and local is good,” Russon said.
The Holbrook farming/agriculture business is itself a blend, like many of its products. There are the Earth Born stores that operate alongside, but separate from, South Tex Organics, which was founded by Dennis in 1984. The elder Holbrook is a pioneer in organic farming, not only in South Texas, but in the United States. Dennis grew up in a traditional farm setting, mixing chemicals and using pesticides and herbicides.
“He (Dennis) was looking at alternatives that were sustainable,” Russon said. “From the standpoint of being a steward of the land, he wasn’t comfortable with continuing to use herbicides and chemicals.”
Devastating Valley freezes in the 1980s accelerated the elder Holbrook’s transition to organic farming. The innovator was well positioned when consumer demand nationally for organically grown products grew in the years to come. The Holbrook’s South Tex Organics is today the nation’s largest grower of organic fruits and vegetables in the United States. Its biggest customers are Whole Foods Market and H-E-B.
The retail piece came five years ago when Dennis purchased the Clements Grove Country Store on Taylor and Three Mile Line. That purchase spurred Russon to return to the Valley, with the Earth Born markets to follow. Earth Born is now owned by the younger Holbrook and his wife.
It has been a long arch from the family’s start in traditional Valley farming to organic products and the two stores. It’s one that Russon has settled into, continuing in a stewardship of the land passed down from his grandfather.
“We honor that tradition and legacy,” said Russon, who also runs South Tex Organics with his father. “It’s what we do and how we do it, and we love and enjoy it.”