Meet the Longhorn Peach Farmer Bringing Fredericksburgs’ Finest Together

“I have never seen it like that in my whole life,” Dave Jobe said in early May, of downtown Fredericksburg, the charming Hill Country town his family has called home for more than 150 years. “It was an absolute ghost town.”

As the global pandemic spread, it touched nearly every corner of the world. And though, as of June 22, Gillespie County has reported only 17 total COVID-19 infections, the town of Fredericksburg complied with the rest of the country in sheltering in place. That meant that the threat of further infections went way down, while at the same time, putting a stranglehold on what makes Fredericksburg—a town known for its wineries, bed-and-breakfasts, and local boutiques—tick.

And it couldn’t have come at a worse time; the 2018 Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau Annual Report notes that the CVB welcomed its most visitors in March and April, beating some months by more than double. But as the economy was hit hard, Jobe, BBA ’87, decided to step in.

The proprietor of a farm that has been in his family since the 1940s, he figured that, just because people couldn’t experience his family’s famous peaches or drop by Fredericksburg Fudge for a tin of milk chocolate and pecans, that didn’t mean they didn’t crave them. And, as a McCombs grad who spent nearly 30 years working at big tech companies and startups alike, mostly leading business development teams, he’s quite versed in e-commerce.

“I’ve done all these other startups, to do a tech startup in Fredericksburg of all places, it feels, there’s a certain serendipity to this whole thing,” Jobe said. “To bring all my e-commerce experience to help small businesses here when they really need it.” He decided he’d round up some of the best products made and sold in the Hill Country, bundle them together, and sell them online to homesick Texans.

And thus, Fredericksburg’s Finest was born. He’d figure out a way to package his peaches—notoriously fragile produce—in addition to highlighting the best of his hometown. He got local businesses like the aforementioned Fredericksburg Fudge on board, plus Hummingbird Farms, a company that makes lavender products, Dutchman’s Market, a meat and jerky company, and more.

“The spirit of the thing is trying to put Fredericksburg in a box,” Jobe said, “to make people feel good across the country.”

To do that, Jobe got in touch with some local businesses, a few of which immediately joined on. Debi Williams said she was thrilled when Jobe called. Her company, Hummingbird Farms, has sold bath and body products, like its bestseller, Lavender Body Lotion No. 145, since 2003, using ingredients grown in the Hill Country.

“It is such a gem out here, from agriculture to bourbon to wine, our bath and body business, fruits and vegetables, everything being grown out here,” she said. “I’m so happy that someone like Dave is going to be able to highlight what’s here in the Fredericksburg area and in the Hill Country, and for us to be a part of that.”

Hummingbird Farms was fortunate enough to have e-commerce as a major part of its business when COVID-19 hit, but does a lot of business selling to small bed-and-breakfasts and local inns, which were shuttered for a period of time. Now that businesses are allowed to reopen, she’s cautiously optimistic.

“Everything is slowly opening back up but our concern is how many will be able to come back,” Williams said. “We’re rooting for all of them.

Jobe realizes this experiment will take time. The website launch has been pushed back more than once due to a commitment to getting the critical packaging design right, and he acknowledges that it will take a while before Fredericksburg’s Finest is firing on all cylinders as an e-commerce company. But Jobe takes it in stride, as do the other sellers on Fredericksburg’s Finest. Jimmy Davis, of Soylites of Texas, will be making soy-based candles under the Fredericksburg’s Finest label. When we spoke in early June, he told me that he didn’t have wax or the containers to pour it in.

“I have several orders waiting for customers,” Davis said. “I have never been in this situation before. Hopefully soon that will alleviate itself and we’ll make our candles and make people happy. That’s what it’s all about.”

But toward the end of May, as Texas began to reopen, Fredericksburg saw some renewed interest from tourists.

Diana Phillips, of Fredericksburg Fudge, was heartened to see customers frequenting stores in the town, noting that most people were being mindful, wearing masks and keeping to small groups.

“It was exciting to see the streets fill up,” she said. “We’re taking a deep sigh of relief and starting to get back to normal.” Phillips is excited to partner with Jobe, to give Texas expats a taste of the town she loves, especially now when they generally can’t fly back.

For Jobe and Fredericksburg’s Finest, though, a return to normalcy, should the curve flatten, doesn’t mean that the project will end there. Helping local businesses during COVID-19 is just one component of Fredericksburg’s Finest, perhaps even just the impetus. The idea, though, runs deeper than any current moment in time.

“I’ve always felt this responsibility to my ancestors to do something of purpose with my life,” Jobe said, “specifically trying to help do something in the Hill Country.”

Editor’s Note: A portion of proceeds from gift boxes sold to Longhorns will be donated to UT’s Student Emergency Fund. To make sure your box is counted toward this contribution, please enter the code “TXEX” under the “promo code” field at check out.

 
 
 

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