The (Food) People of Southern Oregon

Story by Jesse Hirsch; photos by Jay Zschunke

Jesse is a contributing editor for Los Angeles-based GOOD magazine. His stories have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle and Bon Appetit, among many others. Jay is an Associate Copywriter with 360i in New York City.

Ashland sets the stage for good eating and drinking.

To the uninitiated, Ashland, Oregon, may seem like a one-industry town — and that industry is Shakespeare. Every year this picturesque community swells with tens of thousands of visitors who attend the world-renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival; the festival welcomed its 20 millionth visitor in 2015.

But Ashland, situated in the midst of verdant southern Oregon farmland, is also a thriving outpost of our new food economy. The 20,000-person town is awash in farmers and makers and small-batch food entrepreneurs. These doers are helping ensure that Ashland is an international destination not just for theater lovers, but for agri-tourists and roving foodies alike. We spoke with a small cross-section of this robust community, gleaning a sense of what makes Ashland special.

The Farmer

Amber spent her formative years growing up on an Ashland farm. She moved away to see what the world had to offer, only to realize her heart belonged to Ashland. Amber moved back home, family in tow, so that her children could gain all the benefits of a farm upbringing. Now she manages the family farm store, peddling row crop veggies and an array of flowers.

An old profession gets a new sheen:
“Me and my husband started the Fry Family Farm Food Hub where we make value-added products from the field, and take in other products from the area to sell. We have a kitchen where we do all the processing — baked goods, jams, all the sauces, pickles and ferments. Everything we sell here comes from within 200 miles, and it’s all organic.”

On community:
“We are teaming up with everyone who grows produce, fruit, all the artisans…to really give a taste of the Rogue Valley. We’ve had enough support from the community to keep the store going and enough support from other producers to keep the shelves full.”

Must-try products:
“Mustard zucchini pickles, fennel sauerkraut and old-fashioned raspberry jam.”

The Hive Maker

Dave is the proprietor of highly successful Shastina Millwork, producing handcrafted wooden hives for beekeepers around southern Oregon and beyond. He’s lived in the area for more than two decades; good luck convincing him to live elsewhere!

Seasonal charms: “We get four seasons here, but the winters aren’t that brutal (especially compared to Wisconsin, where I’m from). If it does snow a couple of inches, it’s all melted by noon. And the summers don’t get that hot, maybe 10 days over 100 degrees. The humidity is next to none.”

Secret of his success: “The combination of the commercial beekeeper and the hobbyist beekeeper, what they’ve done in the press in say, the last seven years, has been phenomenal for this industry. The whole message of ‘Save the bees’, and ‘We need the bees’, and ‘If we don’t have bees, only one-third of our supermarket shelves are full’. It’s really caught on.”

Happy hobby:
“The thing with [beekeeper] hobbyists is, they have a day job, but they want some bees in their backyard. It flourishes their garden and their plants, plus maybe they want some local honey and the feeling they raised it themselves.”

The Bartender

Colby came to southern Oregon for college and just ... never left. Seduced by all the natural beauty Ashland has to offer, he now manages Standing Stone Brewing Company, a renowned brewery and restaurant right in the heart of town.

People power: “As soon as I moved here, everyone smiled at me. You don’t get any of those eerie looks some places give strangers. Just really nice people here.”

Getting to know you: “[Standing Stone] is one of two places in town brewing its own beer. We have our own farm, called the One Mile Farm, located 1 mile from the restaurant. We have a great compost system here; literally nothing goes to waste. It’s a proud feeling, knowing you’re sustainable and environmentally friendly.”

A favorite brew:
“I really like our I Heart Oregon Ale, especially in the summertime. It’s a nice crisp pale ale, fruity and floral, perfect for hot summer days.”