Travis Kress didn’t want to sound too clichéd when talking about his reasons for getting into the family business, but he had to admit that farming may really be in his blood.
“I was trying to avoid that old cliché because that’s the one everyone uses, ‘It’s in my blood,’ but it honestly is,” he said with a laugh. “If that statement ever was true, it is in this case.”
The Kress family has been farming in Cullman County for 150 years, and Travis marks the fifth generation of the family that has carried on that agricultural legacy.
After he graduated from Auburn in 2011 with a degree in agronomy and soils, he and his wife Ashley soon went into the farming business to sell strawberries and other fruits and vegetables at local farmer’s markets.
Kress Farms was already well known in the community for another crop, so it took some time for the word about Travis and Ashley’s strawberries to spread, he said.
“When I first went to market, everybody knew us as a sweet potato farm,” he said. “In my first year, it took me a little while to break that mold, but now, people know Kress Farms strawberries.”
Kress said they have tried out several different types of strawberries over the years, and continue to do so, but they’ve mainly found that they have the best success with the popular camarosa strawberries. Those large, wedge-shaped strawberries are the industry standard, and are a reliable fruit to grow every year, he said.
“We do try some other varieties, but it always comes back to the camarosa,” he said.
While branching out into strawberries may have been new for the Kress family, Cullman County has long been known for the strawberries that come from the area, Kress said.
“Cullman’s had a deep, long history with strawberries,” he said.
He credited some of the strawberries’ success in the area to the soil type, but also gave credit to the quality of the strawberry farmers in the area who communicate with each other and work together, and he said he is happy to be a member of that community.
“It’s not just me, but I’m proud of the fact that I’m part of the Cullman County strawberry producers,” he said. “We all take the extra time and care and put every effort into it.”
Kress said people come from all around for local strawberries, and the Cullman County strawberry could become as well-known as the vidalia onion that comes from Vidalia, Georgia.
“I want to say mine taste the best, of course, but it’s the other growers in the area that bring everybody here,” he said. “Everybody knows, when you get a strawberry from Cullman County, you’ve got a great product.”
Kress said he and Ashley run the business side of selling the strawberries and fruit, but he also said their successes would not be possible without the help of his family members and employees who work at the farm.
“It’s the enterprise of me and my wife, but it definitely comes with help from my dad, my uncle and all of the employees on the sweet potato side,” he said.
Kress is not able to spend as much time in the field because he has spent the last three years teaching in a small farm training program at Wallace State Community College that continues to grow and attract others who may want to start growing and selling their own crops.
He said he has been able to take aspects of his education at Auburn to teach about the science side of farming, but is also able to use his own experiences from the last several years to teach about the business side of the industry.
“I think that’s what makes that class effective, is that I’m active and going out every day to do what I’m teaching them to do,” he said.
Kress also spends time volunteering with the North Alabama Agriplex and the Cullman County Soil and Water Conservation District to educate others about agriculture and selling fruits and vegetables.
“I still try to stay active in the ag community and give time and volunteer where it’s needed,” he said.
Anyone looking for Kress Farms strawberries can find them at the Festhalle Farmer’s Market in Cullman’s Warehouse District on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Kress said he used to sell in other markets around the area, but selling at the Festhalle has attracted so many customers over the years that it is now the only place that he needs to sell his strawberries.
“At one point we were going up to Madison, but it’s got to where Cullman supports me enough that I don’t have to leave,” he said.
Kress Farms strawberries are also used in another popular Cullman product — Goat Island Brewing’s strawberry wine.
Kress said he is happy to work with another local business for that partnership, and it just offers another way for Cullman County residents to try out his strawberries.
“You can either go to the Festhalle and get the berries to eat them or you can go to Goat Island and drink them,” he said.