ashland.news
June 21, 2024

Rogue Valley Farm Tour: Bumper crop of farm stops

Steven Gidley during the Rogue Valley Farm Tour on Sunday. Art Van Kraft photo
July 18, 2023

Participants in Sunday’s free self-guided tour of area farms reap bounty of information from those who raise the food they eat

By Art Van Kraft for Ashland.news

Rogue Valley farmers threw their barn doors open to visitors Sunday. The 28 farms participating in the Rogue Valley Farm Tour, spread out from Ashland to the Applegate Valley, gave tours, samples of organic produce and a firsthand look of their operations. Visitors ranged for the curious to the dedicated. 

Amber Fry is general manager of Fry Family Farm on Highway 238 in West Medford. It’s one of the largest farms in the valley. She’s the youngest of two generations of family members that own and operate the farm. She said the tour is the one time of the year they open the property to the public. 

“We have 90 acres of farmland throughout Medford and Ashland,” Fry said. “It’s a very diversified operation of vegetables and organic fresh cut flowers. Diversity is the key for our operation. In farming, you want to make sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

Fry says she is aware of the dangers in farming, the things that can’t be controlled. 

Amber Fry and crew at Fry Family Farm during the Rogue Valley Farm Tour on Sunday. Art Van Kraft photo

“Farming is getting more and more difficult each year,” she said. “The weather, the drought, the smoke, labor. The fires affect us when there’s smoke in the valley for more than a week. It affects the crops, it affects the workers, it affects all of us. We need the sun to ripen our crops.” 

Fry said they also operate an industrial kitchen that can be rented by local food producers. One such local entrepreneur was in the kitchen cooking up his brand-name hot sauce. Joey Repice makes Joey’s Hot Sauce, based in Ashland, from peppers grown at the farm.

Joey Repice making hot sauce during the Rogue Valley Farm Tour on Sunday. Art Van Kraft photo

“Were coming on our fourth years since Joey’s Hot Sauce got launched,” Repice recounted. “I started in Talent, but that kitchen was burned down in the fire so I came here. I use organic peppers I get from Fry’s. The hot sauce all started as a passion project for my wife. She saw hot sauce on the shelf that had fillers and binders and expressed her frustration to me, so I was inspired to make a sauce for her. That’s how the whole thing started.” 

Joey says business in good, growing every quarter, with his hot sauce now in a few spots in Manhattan and Detroit.  

Just down the road from Fry’s is Lakota’s Garden. It’s possible the smallest farm on the tour at 5.5 acres. Owner Steven Gidley says he comes from a long line of farmers and has a cellular memory of his agricultural past. 

“Everything I grow is simplified,” Gidley said. “You put a seed in the ground and give it water and light, keep the weeds away from it and you’re good. The product is what the earth gives you without the contamination or interference, too much meddling. We do the farmers market and, in the past, the Medford Food Co-op. Business at the (Medford) Thursday market is better than expected. We sell out most times before noon. I sold all the white peaches in less than an hour. 

“I started gardening back in 2000, and the prices in 24 years have changed considerably and extremely in the last four years, say 99 cents for a watermelon, but I also realize the cost of growing a watermelon now, I can see both sides.”

One man on the tour said he was impressed with the simplicity he saw. Charles Hampton lives in Ashland and said he started going to farmers markets four years ago. 

“I’ve been disappointed with the quality of food at supermarkets,” Hampton said. “Everything is given two labels, quality food or cheaper poor-quality food. I have had bad tasting stuff that reeks of some treatments and some that was good. I just want the good food without all the big choices, because sometimes the labels lie.”

Peter Salant during the Rogue Valley Farm Tour on Sunday. Art Van Kraft photo

Farther out into the Applegate between rolling hills lies the 109-acre Salant Family Ranch. Owner Peter Salant has been raising cattle there since 1994. He says his small operation is more a labor of love. 

“It’s a full-time commitment, so if you don’t love it, you shouldn’t be doing it at all,” Salant said. “I like raising cattle, but I can’t explain why. It gets you out in nature and to a slower rhythm in life, and I enjoy that. 

“A small amount of acres allows me to raise high quality beef. I raise them from birth to when they go to be slaughtered. I sell at farmers markets and at the Medford Co-op.  For me, you have to balance the benefits of modern medicine with the old-time ways of doing things. I also don’t spray my land.”

Salant is a regular fixture at area farmers markets, where his characteristic drawl and gracious speech have endeared him to some regular customers, according to Ashland resident Allyson Barnes. 

“I came out to the ranch tour and had a very good barbecued hamburger for my trip,” she said. “It’s quiet and peaceful here.” 

Salant said he has given up on cowboying now and rounds up his cattle by starting up the tractor. When they hear that, the cattle come running for dinner. Salant said the ranch is starting to offer accommodations to visitors as well.

Art Van Kraft is an artist living in Ashland and a former broadcast journalist and news director of a Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate. Email him at artukraft@msn.com.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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