The Dade County, Fla., Farm Bureau has named the Rutzkes of Homestead the 2008 Farm Family of the Year.
The Rutzke family has been farming in Miami-Dade County since 1907. Although their lifestyle is often a difficult one, "We were always able to survive," says Barney Rutzke, Sr.
Von Herman Rutzke and his wife, Emilie, immigrated to Utah from Germany. Herman and son, Fritz, joined the Berneckers in Homestead. Herman began growing tomatoes and oranges on leased land.
Initially a labor contractor in the citrus groves, Fritz grew citrus, tomatoes, pole beans and peppers.
In the early 1920s, Fritz and his wife Emma built the family home in the Redland, which is still used today as the center of business.
In profitable years, Fritz purchased more land to farm. Emma began planting avocado seeds in coffee cans, which would eventually result in avocado groves that are still producing today.
In addition to the family and farm responsibilities, Emma also managed apartments for the field workers. By the mid 1960s, the Rutzke family was farming more than 2,000 acres in the Homestead area of southern Florida.
After Hurricane Andrew, they stopped farming tomatoes for a few years, and the business went seven years with a negative income.
Fortunately, land values slowly increased, and that helped sustain the farming business. Barney Rutzke also invested in a cattle ranch in Punta Gorda, in the mid 1980s, where they worked on the weekends after the long work week in the fields and groves.
The Rutzke brothers were innovative in their farming techniques. They diversified their crops in the late 1970s by adding mango and lime groves.
They were one of the first to have a shade house around their carombola trees. As they earned a profit, they purchased even more land to farm.
In 1996 the Rutzkes began farming tomatoes again, and in 2000, launched their nursery business.
Today, the Rutzke family business is spearheaded by Barney and Barney, Jr. About one quarter of the business is farming fruits and vegetables, and the other three quarters is in the nursery.
"There's less price fluctuation in the nursery, as opposed to the vegetables and fruits," Barney, Jr. says.
To subscribe to the print version of The Grower, click here.