Last Bite - Royal purple reigns
From spuds to apples
For many years, Reuben Benz shipped Yakima Valley apples overseas using the Goodfruit label.
The seven "Benz Boys" were well known throughout central Washington State in the first decades of the 1900s. Their father, Frederick Benz, had emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1880, married a fellow German immigrant named Louisa Huttenlocher, and settled in Iowa. Always deeply religious, Frederick became an evangelical minister, serving a number of rural German evangelical churches. But between 1890 and 1899, seven sons were born to Frederick and Louisa, and the ministry was not providing sufficient income. So, the family moved to Minnesota to farm, and Frederick grew potatoes as his main crop.
However, Frederick had not lost his passion for the church, and in 1904, the entire family moved west to Tacoma, Washington, to establish the First Church of the Evangelical. Four years later, he was assigned to a church in Portland, Oregon, but the damp coastal climate did not agree with Benz, and his doctor advised him to move to a drier area. In 1911, J.C. Luckel, a close friend of the family, loaned Frederick the money to purchase an 80-acre irrigated ranch four miles west of Toppenish, Washington, in the Yakima Valley. The family's first shelter on their new ranch consisted of a former chicken house for the adults and a tent for the boys until a permanent house was built. This was a good time for agriculture in the Yakima Valley. Benz grew wheat, alfalfa, potatoes, corn, sugar beets, and melons in addition to establishing a cattle-feeding operation. He became known as the Yakima Valley Potato King.
As the sons reached maturity, they joined their father in the farming operation. The elder Benz had hoped that farming would provide enough income for the entire family, but even the addition of another 200 acres was unlikely to produce enough revenue for the seven boys and their parents. Eventually, Hans established his own apple and hop operation, Reuben moved into Yakima in 1925 to assist in marketing potatoes, Ezra became an accountant, Luke had a successful career as a stockbroker in New York City, and Fred practiced law in Seattle. Only Immanuel and Paul remained on the home farm all their lives.
Although Reuben was successful selling potatoes, he became interested in apple marketing. For a brief period, he was sales manager for the local C.M. Kopp Company, but by 1926, he began what was to become his lifetime career as an independent shipper of Yakima apples to markets all over the world. He never operated a packing house or grew his own apples, but bought locally and established contacts to facilitate apple sales nationally and internationally.
By 1930, taking advantage of a widespread European crop failure, Benz was selling Yakima apples to outlets in Rotterdam, Liverpool, London, Hamburg, and Scandinavia. World War II had an adverse effect on his business, but he persevered and continued his apple shipping operations under his own name until the mid-1950s. In 1957, he took a partner, only then incorporated the business as the Reuben G. Benz Company, and retired from the heavy duties of his sales operation.
Benz used the Goodfruit label for many years on the boxes of Yakima Valley apples he shipped overseas. During this time, he also was the exclusive sales agent for Highland Fruit Growers and Congdon Orchards. He became chair of the Northwest Apple Rate Commission, a member of the Washington Apple Commission, and president of the National Apple Institute. While on the Apple Commission, he successfully lobbied for lower shipping rates for Washington apples and won several industry honors for his efforts. He passed away in April 1982.