What’s in a job: Farmer at heart keeps the fruit rolling in

SANTA CLARA – It’s a tough business, growing produce and running the popular Frei’s Fruit Market. This time of year, almost everything is in season and the fruit market is bursting with all kinds of fruits and vegetables, from melons to peaches to green and red bell peppers.

Lucious sweet-corn at Frei's Fruit Market, Santa Clara, Utah, Sept. 1, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
Lucious sweet-corn at Frei’s Fruit Market, Santa Clara, Utah, Sept. 1, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

But what started as a small table of homegrown produce six decades ago has turned into a thriving enterprise for the Frei family.

Bryce Frei and his sister Vicki jointly run Frei’s Fruit Market, both growing and selling farm fresh produce to appreciative customers.

Bryce’s parents, Landon and Wanda Frei, started the business 60 years ago, he said. At the time, old Highway 91 was the main road connecting Salt Lake City and California; local residents would sell their homegrown fruits and vegetables to travelers.

“Mom and Dad bought the farm here in Santa Clara in 1956 and started growing fruits and vegetables,” Bryce Frei said, selling them from a small table in front of their home on Santa Clara Drive.

Pears at Frei's Fruit Market, Santa Clara, Utah, Sept. 1, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
Pears at Frei’s Fruit Market, Santa Clara, Utah, Sept. 1, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

When the Virgin River Gorge section of Interstate 15 opened, traffic bypassed Santa Clara and all the small fruit stands closed except Frei’s.

“It grew and they built another building and it grew a little more, and they added on and added on,” Bryce Frei said. “It kept growing and growing and growing.”

In 2006, Landon and Wanda Frei turned the business over to Bryce and his sister Vicki.

“We could see we’d outgrown the little market and so we tore it down and built this one in 2007 in the same location.”

In late summer, most produce at the market comes from Green River and Colorado because their growing season complements that of Southern Utah. Local produce starts earlier in the year and then slows down when the heat hits in July and August.

Bryce Frei's truck and the warehouse at Frei's Fruit Market, Santa Clara, Utah, Sept. 1, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
Bryce Frei’s truck and the warehouse at Frei’s Fruit Market, Santa Clara, Utah, Sept. 1, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

Bryce Frei takes his semitractor-trailer – a 48-foot trailer – to Colorado as often as is needed, filling the warehouse with produce from Grand Junction and other smaller towns in Colorado: Delta, Palisade, Cedar Ridge.

Even with the volume of produce that goes through the market, Bryce Frei said very little goes to waste. Most of it is quickly sold, but if he can see he’s overstocked, he donates the excess to the Utah Food Bank before it can rot.

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A farmer at heart

Besides running a business, Bryce Frei also grows his own produce.

“I enjoy the growing, I really like the challenge of growing,” Frei said.

“You don’t inherit a green thumb, you work at it. You test and you experiment.”

He also likes seeing the market’s repeat customers.

“That lady that just walked by, this may be her second or third time this week. People just come back, and come back and come back.”

It’s a hard business, though, because of long hours and difficulty juggling labor costs for the harvesting and for the market.

Early season apples at Frei's Fruit Market, Santa Clara, Utah, Sept. 1, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
Early season apples at Frei’s Fruit Market, Santa Clara, Utah, Sept. 1, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

Bryce Frei starts picking fruits and vegetables when the sun comes up, as early as 5:30 a.m. in the summer. Then he goes to work at the market and picks again in the evening. He farms several parcels of land, including 400 fruit trees; this year, he transplanted 3,000 small tomato plants.

“I sell way more than I can raise. I don’t have enough land or labor,” he said, “and the weather doesn’t cooperate – the heat of the summer.”

Even though the fruit stand is only open for five months the rest of the year he is busy pruning fruit trees, taking care of the soil and planting as early as February.  “It’s not an off-time in the winter anymore.”

Other family members are also involved in the fruit market. Bryce Frei’s wife makes all the jams and jellies from scratch, his mother-in-law does all the pickling, Vicki Frei’s daughter makes all the salsa and a neighbor produces the local honey available at the market.

Frei’s Fruit Market is located at 2895 Santa Clara Drive and will be open until Halloween.

About the series “What’s in a job”

Labor Day invites us to give “tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” according to the Labor Department.

St. George News brings this “What’s in a job” series of stories over Labor Day weekend to recognize workers whose contributions may go unnoticed, who may be less visible to the general public than others and to unpack some of what goes into everyday jobs performed by everyday people in our communities. Work is a good thing. We honor it and those who do it.

Other stories in the series:

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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