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Rising Sun rising fast

But business finds land-use rules hard to weed out

TALENT -- Rising Sun Farm has basked in growth since Richard and Elizabeth Fujas moved it from the Colestin Valley in 1992.

But growth is also challenging their ability to stay on rural land even as new opportunities promise more expansion.

The 28-acre operation grows and processes 70 food products with a year-round staff of 40. During the peak season, in the fourth quarter, the company runs day and night with up to 72 full-time workers.

They don't disclose annual sales, but the number of employees has doubled in four years and Elizabeth says sales grew by 37 percent last year. Richard will grow 100,000 pounds of basil this year.

Prosperity has increased demands for municipal utility services at the business, 5126 S. Pacific Highway. They recently obtained approvals for a sewer connection, despite conflicting state land use objectives.

The state says the extension of sewer facilities to exclusive farm zoning increases pressures for urbanization, which is contrary to state planning goals, says Laurel Prairie-Kuntz, Jackson County planning director.

Because of the geography and geology of the Bear Creek Valley, Rising Sun needs a community system to handle its processing, she says.

After an 18-month struggle, the business will be gaining sewer service. Now the challenge is gaining access to a water line that will be extended from Medford to Talent and possibly Ashland.

We're going through the same thing all over again, Elizabeth Fujas says.

She says they want to stay in the Rogue Valley and maintain a viable farm, but would move if they can't get the tools to continue expanding the business.

The couple operated a yachting charter in the Caribbean before moving to the Colestin Valley in 1980. They soon learned that processing pesto from the basil they grew high in the Siskiyous was more profitable than crops.

They added oil-free salad dressings and popular tortas, which are sold in institutional quantities and marketed at retail outlets and through catalogs, including Neiman Marcus and Harry and David.

The company has been growing while other specialty food processors around the country have been stagnant, she says, adding, We can be very versatile -- we don't have to do humongous amounts of a product all at once.

At this time of year, the company is looking for ways to grow.

We're extending lines and developing new products, trying to stay ahead of the game, she says. It's a tough market out there on the store shelves.

And they're looking across the Pacific at ways to introduce Americans to kimchi, a staple of the Korean diet.

In its most common form, kimchi is a spicy blend of cabbage, garlic, radish and other vegetables that's cured in a pickle of fish sauce.

They eat it with every meal, just like we'd eat carbohydrates, Elizabeth says. But they're very particular about what they eat. The garlic has to have six cloves, not five or seven. The hot peppers, the onions and the radish all have to be a certain variety.

In cooperation with a Korean food processor and the Southern Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station, Rising Sun is striving to learn if the ingredients can be grown here and if they can be produced for American tastes.

She and Richard tried a wide variety of kimchi when they visited Korea recently, discovering non-spicy white kimchi, sesame kimchi, cucumber kimchi and kimchi soup, among other things.

We're doing a whole business plan and market analysis, Elizabeth says. There's a steep learning curve for a lot of people. This isn't an American taste. We will probably market it as marinated vegetables. But it's an ultimate health food. You don't see overweight Koreans, and it's not because of a lack of food.

And kimchi will also take substantial quantities of clean water to wash and prepare the ingredients, she says.

Erica Ramirez, top, forces cheese through a funnel while Leticia Hernandez, left and Rosa Bugarin make cheese tortes at Rising Sun Farm in Talent Monday. - Photo by Jim Craven