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MailTribune.com
  • Quite a Pear

    Southern Oregon Sales partnership with Mike DeSimone has ripened, bringing back some out-of-work pear packers
  • MEDFORD — This time last year, there wasn't much optimism that Southern Oregon Sales would see another season of pear packing.
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  • MEDFORD — This time last year, there wasn't much optimism that Southern Oregon Sales would see another season of pear packing.
    The nearly century-old cooperative that supplied pears for the packing house on Stewart Avenue at the railroad tracks was dissolving and it appeared the operation was doomed to be relegated to history.
    Mike DeSimone had other ideas and the owner of Cross Creek Trucking stepped forward last winter and paid $2.3 million for the property. As a result, the old packing house, which has operated since 1918 roared back to life in late August.
    Diana Doran, general manager for the past six years, says she's happy to see familiar faces working the line from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily.
    "We've gone back to work with 50 to 60 percent of our old SOS packing crew," Doran says. "I think they were all very surprised and very pleased. It's not easy to get a job right now and a lot of the packers have tapered off over the past 10 to 12 years. I don't know if Naumes, Associated Fruit or (Harry & David) could have picked them up. This is a job they are experienced at and it's a positive thing for the pear industry and the agricultural industry in Southern Oregon."
    DeSimone said delays in closing the deal created some hardships in cranking up the sorting lines.
    "With all the delays we had, it's like two trains running in an 'X' and crashing, with full-blown harvest going while we're remodeling and cleaning up the place."
    Two longtime Southern Oregon Sales labels remain — the black box SOS No. 1 and Crooked Creek — while DeSimone had an Old 99 Road Orchards label created and obtained permission from the Culbertson family to use the historic Crystal Springs label.
    Even though the 50 people staffing the operation match last year's payroll level, Doran says there is a different feel.
    "Cross Creek brings so much diversity to what we do," Doran says. "Where as before we were solely a pear-packing house, the other things we do now will help us with the overhead."
    There already are 7,000 cases of wine in cold storage and a second room is being remodeled to double the wine-storage capacity, Doran says.
    "It really helps to bring in revenue throughout the year," she says. "And not just during pear-packing season."
    Cross Creek Trucking runs six refrigerator rigs with local pears to the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Washington state and the East Coast, Doran says. "The dispatch work will be transferred here in the next two weeks."
    During the next two years, Doran says, SOS hopes to diversify into stone fruit operations, perhaps apricots or nectarines.
    SOS is leasing three pear orchards this year and DeSimone said the company is interested in buying 5 acres off Camp Baker Road where peaches are grown.
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.
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