Since 1990, the Fry family has been growing certified organic vegetables, flowers and nursery plants in the Rogue Valley. What started as a small family operation – one small greenhouse and a few acres in Talent – has grown to a full-fledged, 100-acre operation with 10 greenhouses in Talent, Phoenix and Medford, Oregon.
Growth Goals: Becoming a Community Resource
Steve and Suzi Fry started the farm because it offered them an opportunity to raise their five young daughters in a healthy way while simultaneously being good stewards of the land: values that were important to them both.
“Farming was a job that didn’t pollute the planet, our lives, or anyone else, and a good way to stay home and raise our five daughters in a wholesome way,” said Suzi.
Today, their oldest daughter Amber is spearheading the farm’s expansion with those same values. Through in-depth research and a survey of more than 80 local farmers, the Frys realized there was an opportunity for the farm to serve as a community resource.
After much discussion, they decided to build a 70-by-100-foot building at their Medford farm site to serve as both a food processing facility and be host to a 70-by-20 foot farmstand. The front of the building will be the community farmstand, while inside, a commercial processing kitchen will be available for rent on a per-use, flat-fee basis to process their locally-grown products.
Over the course of a year, Amber worked to secure the necessary $1.2 million required to complete the farm’s expansion project. Through a $500,000 loan from Farm Credit Services, a $395,000 grant from the state’s South Central Regional Solutions Center that is funded by lottery bonds and additional funding from a Local Food Promotion Program grant from the USDA. In addition to working with federal, state and local agencies, the Frys also received private donations to help bring this project to life.
A Conscious Choice to Innovate Water and Waste Management
Food production is a water-intensive business. Cleaning and sanitization, processing, and storage (hydro-cooling) all require hundreds of gallons of water each day. In this drought-prone region of Jackson County, water scarcity is always top of mind for farm producers.
Amber was no different. Thinking through the most efficient way to manage the farm’s water resources for this food production facility, she opted to utilize a water reclamation system.
A standard flow sink uses 2.2 gallons of water per minute. Washing 50 lbs of produce can use a lot of water, and at a production facility the sink is ALWAYS in use. Typically, this water would go down the drain and into the sewer. With a water reclamation system, the water is captured in the reclamation tank where it is filtered, sanitized and held for reuse for up to seven days, getting sanitized and filtered each time it drains. After seven days the water in the reclamation tank is flushed, and the process starts all over.
Amber estimates that during peak season, this reclamation tank could save 500-1000 gallons per day and reduce the amount of water being discharged into the sewer system.
In order to make the reclamation system possible, the Fry family obtained an exemption to actually dispose of water into the region’s sewer system, as the septic and lagoon systems were not an option for food safety reasons. Typically, farms aren’t permitted access to discharge directly to the sewers in incorporated areas.
The path was difficult — 12-18 month permitting processes with the Oregon Department of Environmental quality, and gaining exemptions from the county to use the city sewer services. But the long-term value of the water reclamation system and waste management is more efficient for food preparations and will manage the water usage of the farm in a successful and sustainable way.
An added benefit for the farm: by using a water reclamation system vs. lagoons (the common practice by farms in the region), the Frys will maximize the amount of acreage they have available for production instead of having to utilize that space for a lagoon.
“We are so excited to have completed the planning process and to be able to bring this kind of resource to the local community,” said Amber. “Not only will this expand OUR farm, but it will expand opportunities for our local agricultural community to offer more locally sourced and grown goods.”
After a long and deliberate planning process, the Fry family broke ground on the expansion the week of February 24, 2016. With a projected completion date of July 2016, this expansion will create between seven and 10 jobs and is the first step in helping facilitate accessibility to fresh and organic produce for rural and urban areas in southern Oregon.