The descendants of pioneer farmers Alfred and Leonard Carpenter anticipate the city's final blessing this week, clearing the way for a new chapter in the Century Farm's history.
Rocky Knoll farm, a 180-acre rectangle in the heart of east Medford, is an agricultural oasis in an area slowly giving way to ever-denser subdivisions.
Food grown on the historic Carpenter land appears on scores of local tables, via Internet orders or the farm's honor barn off Hillcrest Road. The farm also has embraced the growing viticulture of the area with its Rocky Knoll Vineyards, four acres of grapes that include some of the earliest plantings in the region.
The Medford Planning Commission is expected to give final approval for a conditional use permit today, allowing expansion of the farm stand, construction of a wine-tasting room, special events and a commercial kitchen.
"The city departments have worked with us — maintaining the rules and safety — but being flexible," said Emily Mostue, who owns the land along with siblings Karen Carpenter Allan, a Medford attorney, and brother Dunbar Scott Carpenter, a psychologist in Portland.
David Mostue, Emily's son, planted nearly 150 vegetable and fruit varieties this year and expects to plant about 200 in 2013. On any given Friday, 35 customers pick up orders from the stand, which also carries produce from nearby Hillcrest Orchard, which sits in the county.
"I don't think there is a parallel in the county," Emily Mostue said of her in-town farm. "But I'm sure there is someone else somewhere in the state offering direct farm goods."
It took more than a year to get land rezoned to an exclusive agriculture overlay and the next step may take a while as well.
Among the next steps is chip-sealing the bumpy gravel road leading to the barn, which would house the farm stand and tasting room, and landscaping. Development of the tasting room, however, will be contingent upon the size of accompanying systems development charges, which won't be known until plans are submitted.
"If they come in too high we won't do this," she said. "We're willing to put every ounce of energy into it, but we don't have the extra money to spend on improvements that lose money. If it's $50,000 we wouldn't be able to recoup the cost."
If development pencils out, the tasting room would enhance the year-round activity and provide direct access to Rocky Knoll wine made with estate-grown Bordeaux grapes. The family launched Rocky Knoll label wine in 2005, releasing its first vintage in 2007. The oldest vines were planted in the mid-1970s by the three siblings' father, Dunbar Carpenter.
The project's mix of a farm stand and tasting room would satisfy different consumer needs.
"A farm stand is different than a winery, where people expect to spend a weekend day," David Mostue said. "When you're talking about food, it's quicker. It's an errand, where you find what you want, cook it and consume it."
For now, there are no nearby supermarkets or convenience stores, Emily Mostue said. "Albertsons is the nearest one and it's two miles away."
That's provided a window of opportunity to develop relationships with customers. While typical farm stands are seasonal, David Mostue said Dunbar Farm-label produce will be available 12 months — serving up Asian greens, onions and other winter crops during the off-season.
Adopting an honor payment system similar to the one instituted years ago at Hillcrest Orchard, has expanded a tracking system to know what kind of produce to pick and bring to the barn. Even though prices are designed to make it easy — by dollar or quarter units — Customers tend to err on the side of leaving a few cents more in the box than necessary.
"We even find notes that they didn't have enough money and will return with the rest of the payment," Emily Mostue said.
Orders for Friday evening pickup are taken at dunbarfarms.com.
Terry Light of Hillcrest Orchards said having a neighboring farm stand will entice shoppers to both locations.
"There aren't too many fruit stands on this side of the valley, I'm sure we'll be helping each other," Light said.
For the first time in decades, crops were planted along Pierce Road this year and the land is able to produce much more, David Mostue said.
"We hope to move into dairy and, potentially meat, he said. "Right now we're at two-thirds yield capacity."
As crops ramp up, Mostue envisions providing year-around produce for between 60 and 80 subscribers, who would pay $3,000 annually for most of their eating needs.
"We have a location few farms have to our advantage where we can market to a community," Mostue said. "Obviously, the goal is to get this piece of land economically viable and we're trying to find ways to develop our opportunities."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.