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From zero to retail

Steve Fry stepped outside the latest addition to Fry Family Farm and broke into a grin as he considered how far his operation has come.

Fry Family Farm issues 30 paychecks and works 100 acres of organic farmland on plots outside Medford and Talent. This weekend, The Farm Store opens on Ross Lane, providing organic fruit, vegetables, baked goods, jams and plants. It wasn't always that way.

With the bill of his ball cap pulled down to meet his sunglasses and a foot-long beard thwarting the warm August morning sun, Fry succinctly recounted the rise of his agrarian enterprise over the past quarter century. Steve and his wife, Suzanne, arrived in Jackson County with the dream of growing vegetable cash crops, with little else but experience gained first in Santa Cruz, Calif., and later in Siskiyou County.

Recently, a visitor fixing some farm equipment shared his notion that, like many hobby farmers, the Frys began with a pile of cash from past ventures.

"We didn't start with a bunch of money, we started with no money — zero," Fry corrected. "I was on borrowed land, free land, a guy was just giving me a spot when we moved here. We had nothing. My dad helped me buy a house trailer and we had a half-acre of ground to start with."

But the combination of toil and marketing planted a seed that germinated and developed a loyal following.

"It grew with the co-op in Ashland and other stores receiving our product, and it's turned into this," he said. "I can't grow enough stuff. You start, you're diligent, you hire good people, you've got a good product, you stick with it, and you achieve your goal. This has always been my dream, to have a farm that is truly sustainable; it feeds off itself."

A grand opening is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at 2184 Ross Lane, Medford.

Organic jams, specialty sauces, pickled vegetables and baked goods will be available, as will wood-fired pizza smothered in Fry Family produce and artisan cheeses and baked in an oven built by Jeremiah Church.

"There are always hurdles when you're on exclusive farm-use land," Fry said. "Building the building was actually really simple. The last few weeks were stressful, dealing with petty things like parking lot lines and how we're going to cool down the building.

"We can't have air conditioning because we're a farmstand," he said. "So we put in a swamp cooler. It's farm style, we just make it happen."

The 8,400-square-foot building, built by S&B James Construction Management, features a 1,400-square-foot retail storefront with a commercial kitchen, processing, food storage and shipping dock in the back.

This summer's early harvest cycle added a bit of urgency.

"We had to get our game moving fast," Steve Fry said. "We froze the cherries right away, so it was important to get our walk-in freezer in place on time." 

Daughters Amber and Terra Fry will be managing the new retail store as well as the processing kitchen, where baked and preserved products are cooked. The kitchen also will be available for other food processing businesses to rent.

Fruit and vegetables needed for baking that aren't grown by the family will be acquired within a  200-mile range from Northern California and Oregon, Terra Fry said.

By the end of the month, a packing line will be available to local growers.

"We'll be able to get local organic produce to the wholesale market to Portland, Seattle and beyond," he said.

The Farm Store will operate from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m Sunday, March through December. The family's produce will continue to be sold at growers markets in Medford, Grants Pass and Ashland.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

John Biles, a production chef with Fry Family Farm, makes pickled jalapenos at its new kitchen off Ross Lane on Thursday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
The Fry Family Farm Store will open on Ross Lane this weekend and will provide organic fruit, vegetables, baked goods, jams and plants. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch