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Looking to the Future in Branch: What’s Your Story

Appropriately this week’s What’s Your Story is about persistence. Because despite a picture perfect day, there was absolutely no one interested.

And the second day, was decidedly not as perfect. So, seeking shelter in the first place that looked like it may have a good story, we found ourselves sitting in a dry office with Michael Fruge.

“My brother and I both grew up on this farm in Branch,” says Fruge “We grew up driving tractors and working equipment.”

Michael has been in the farming business most of his life, even if for a little while he didn’t think that would be the case.

“There were people going to Washington D.C. on tractors and farms were going out of business across the country,” he says. “So it was a pretty bad time to get in the farming business.”

Instead of thinking it would be a means to a different life. Fruge says his family took a different approach to farming.

“We started farming crawfish when we were in college just to earn a little money,” he says. “It was better than working for minimum wage.”

And although for a little while Michael donned a suit and tie working a corporate job in Miami, it was only a matter of time before he found himself back on the farm.

“I came back and we started working to expand the farm and really focusing on making a living crawfish farming,” Michael says.

As the popularity of crawfish grew, so did Fruge Farms. Eventually expanding into a seafood company to help out during the crawfish offseason.

Fruge says that crawfishing was tough business at the farm almost went under as a result of that struggle.

That’s where the lessons of persistance paid off. Eventually, the seafood business righted itself but the ghosts of growing up in the 70s lingered for Fruge.

“Things can get rough,” he says. “So I’ve always been a little paranoid of what might happen.

Always looking ahead and worried about falling rice prces Michael decided to expand again, this time to alcohol. His new product, rice vodka named after a great uncle whose legacy still looms large in the family.

“John Meleck was a great, great uncle who immigrated to Louisiana in a covered wagon in the 1870s,” says Fruge. “He grew the first rice on our farm.”

And from there a whiskey made right here in louisiana from our favorite grain

“The main thing was whiskey mostly because I like it and wanted to see if i could do it,” says Fruge. “We’ve got it sitting in barrels as we speak.”

But while the whiskey sits quietly in barrels, Michael refuses to stay idle.

“I’m always moving forward,” he says. “I’m always looking way ahead to see what’s there to help us build a better foundation.”

Using that sentiment beyond business and even helping build a baseball field so his son’s team would have a place to practice.

“We were practicing and on the team but the team didn’t have a place to practice so we borrowed a field from a guy and i said, ‘what about that one and he said have it’,” says Fruge. “I didn’t think i’d be able to do it.”

Showing once again the power of persistence. So while there was a break in the rain we had Michael send us to St. Landry Parish.

Daniel Phillips

Daniel Phillips

Received a Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, and worked in Colorado before landing in Lafayette. Morning meteorologist for KATC, along with reporting for What's Your Story. Interested in coastal and environmental stories, and stories highlighting Louisiana's rich culture.
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