WEB EXCLUSIVE: An Interview With Steve Fry, Fry Family Farm
Rogue Valley Messenger: Do you and Suzi come from a farming background? Did your parents farm?
Steve Fry: No, her parents ranched. Her mom was born on a cow ranch in Eastern Oregon, but her mom was a schoolteacher and my mom and dad they immigrated from Idaho to LA. They were not farmers. Suzi started farming oh, 27, years ago here. Down in California, I was farming down there before I came up here. And we’ve been up here for 27 years.
SF: RVM: So what made you guys decide this lifestyle, because it can’t be easy?
It’s not easy. We wanted to farm so we could be home with our kids and grow food that didn’t have pesticides and herbicides on it.
RVM: So you’ve been organic since day one?
RVM: The weather this year has been weird.
SF: It’s cold. It’s wet and the sun comes out and it gets really warm and then it gets cold again. It’s calling for thunderstorms today, that’ll be nice.
RVM: What do you think that this particular winter is going to do to the growing season?
SF: I have no idea. I know it’s slowed everybody down, but then in the fall we usually have a long, long fall before the freezes come. So the years that we’ve been late starting we’ve made up at the end of the season, which is pretty cool.
RVM: So you’re probably a couple of weeks behind at this point?
SF: We’re probably three. We’re full-time farmers so we’re here every day, so we get to hit little windows of dryness — like this out here is getting all ready [points to a patch of land].
RVM: How are winters? Do you get to vacation?
SF: Yeah. We take a couple weeks off. We got a kid down in New Orleans, so we went down and visited her. We also took all the family to Florida and had a nice time down there. It’s 74, 75 degrees man. White sandy beaches and nobody there and nice warm breeze coming up over you. But then we get back here and we go back to work. Watch out for that puddle!
RVM: What do your days look like?
SF: We get up whenever the sun rises and then you work until you know, five or six [in the evening]. But I got a lot of people that work for us and I’m getting older. Younger farmers work more hours. When I was younger, I worked a lot more hours because I couldn’t afford anybody.
RVM: Are your kids going to take over the farm some day?
SF: Yeah, I got two girls that work in the farm store. Amber and Terra and they’re committed to seeing it through.
RVM: What is the financial side of things like?
SF: You gotta be a good money manager to be a farmer because you have a lot of months with no income and a lot of out-go. You’ve gotta buy fertilizers, you gotta buy employees, you gotta buy seeds. seeds are very expensive. You gotta pay your rent, you gotta pay your water bill, irrigation. It goes on and on and on.
RVM: Did you expect that to be one of the things you’d have to really nail?
SF: You learn that right away, the first year.
RVM: What was your first year like?
SF: When we moved from California to here [to start the farm], I had to get a winter job because we weren’t making a lot.
RVM: If you didn’t do this, what what you do?
SF: I’d probably live under a bridge. I’m 65, baby, I’m done. I’d take my retirement and live under a bridge, because that’s about all you can do with that kind of money. No, no we’re not going anywhere, this is what we always wanted to do and this is great. We’re making plants and we’re making good food for people. You can’t lose sight of that. [met suzi, hands covered in mud so hugged]
RVM: How much do you use your greenhouses?
SF: Just about 90% of the seed we plant out in the fields comes from these greenhouses. It amazes me every year. This place is popping. It’s always fun to start seeds, because you see the miracle right there, you know. Stuff popping out of the ground. That’s awesome. I’m not going to sit in an office. This is all I want to do. This is fun.
RVM: Do you sometimes wish people would like smaller peppers and ugly tomatoes and that sort of thing?
SF: Yeah, it would make my life a lot easier. Constantly I fight that, but the consumer is used to Safeway-quality stuff. Finally, organics has go to a place where we can grow big stuff. We go into Whole Foods/New Seasons and I’ve got to have high quality stuff because those people are paying a lot of money for their food and they want nice big stuff. There’s really not even a market that will take mediocre stuff.
RVM: Is there one crop that you’re most proud of?
SF: Which kid are you most proud of? These are my people here. Everybody contributes.
No kids want to be a farmer. Kids don’t know what they want. These kids. They went to college, they did their thing and they came back it was like “ok what’s happening, what do you want to do? You want to be here?” because I wasn’t going to build that whole thing over there unless somebody was going to run it because I got to much to do already. I got to manage all of these yahoos.
RVM: So what’s next, are you going to expand and…
SF: …take over the world? This is as much of the world as I want. Maybe we’ll put some solar panels on the farm store.