The Philanthropy Collaborative

Regional Case Studies

The Meadows Foundation and the Rio Star Grapefruit

The Meadows Foundation and the Rio Star GrapefruitThe Rio Grande Valley stands as an international gateway to Mexico and an important agricultural center of Texas. A significant part of the state's heritage is rooted here, and the Valley's fertile soil and temperate climate make it an ideal location for growing citrus trees. The Meadows Foundation has committed well over $30 million to help safeguard the heritage and enrich the lives of the people who live and work in this unique part of Texas.

Every spring since 1893, the Valley air is fragrant with the sweet smell of citrus blossoms - a sure sign that the region's lush citrus crop will soon be available. One year, the fragrant aroma was missing. On Christmas Eve, 1983, a devastating freeze destroyed more than half of the 8.1 million citrus trees in the Rio Grande Valley. The loss resulted in the elimination of over 8,000 agricultural jobs in the region. At the same time, scientists, under the leadership of citrus geneticist Dr. Richard Hensz at the Texas A&M-Kingsville Citrus Center in Mission, Texas, were working to develop a sweeter, redder, and more freeze-resistant grapefruit. The new strain had the potential to restore jobs and revitalize the citrus industry, a major part of the region's economy.

In response to the disastrous freeze and loss of jobs, The Meadows Foundation looked for ways to help those who had been affected. After learning of Dr. Hensz' work, the Foundation awarded three grants totaling $165,100 to the research team over a seven-year period. By 1987, the first commercial crops of the new fruit were being harvested, the citrus industry was on the rebound, and the unemployed were beginning to go back to work. "We enjoy in Texas what many consider the best red grapefruit in the world, developed for and grown in the Rio Grande Valley," read a January 2008 article in the Dallas Morning News. Today, the "Rio Star" grapefruit is recognized as the signature fruit of the Texas citrus industry and the benchmark for flavor among all grapefruit. The cumulative economic impact of the initial $165,100 gift from The Meadows Foundation is estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, proving that grants of any size can have long-term positive impact.

As the future unfolds, The Meadows Foundation remains committed to supporting the people of the Rio Grande Valley through grants that encourage self-sufficiency, personal wellness, education, cultural enrichment, and environmental protection.

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