Today, Greg visits Southern Oregon for a degree in organics and torta-ology.

In the early 80s I was a disc jockey on a country music station in Central Oregon. One of the songs on regular rotation back then was a Barbara Mandrell/George Jones number called “I was country when country wasn’t cool.” When it comes to organic foods, the same can be said for Elizabeth Fujas, and her company Rising Sun Farms.

Around the time that song was hitting the airwaves, Elizabeth and her husband, Richard, were moving onto a remote farm outside of Medford, in Southern Oregon. Fresh from a life at sea (she as a chef aboard racing yachts, he as a ship captain in the West Indies), this seemed like the ideal spot to retire into full-time parenthood.

In what could best be described as quasi-dropping out, the Fujas family decided to grow their own food free of pesticides and fresh from the land. It wasn’t long before Elizabeth, who had become somewhat of a legend in the seafaring community for her repertoire of handmade pesto sauces, was peddling her basil creations to friends and through small local markets. The operation was pretty simple back then. Their “factory” was a yurt on the property, and the equipment was a small food processor powered by a generator.

Keep in mind that these were the days when organic foods were relegated to “health food stores” frequented and staffed by folks with a penchant for Birkenstocks and excess body hair. Acceptance for natural foods in the broad consumer market was decades away, but the quality of Rising Sun Farms’ organic products built a steady following.

Today, the company’s line of specialty products includes everything from those original pesto sauces to cheese tortas, vinaigrettes and specialty oils, and can be found in grocers nationwide. Check out the Rising Sun Farms website to learn more.

I spent a day with Elizabeth, touring their farm and factory located between Ashland and Medford. We strolled through her huge herb garden, talking about her days as “that crazy hippie lady” who made great pestos. Little did she know that her quest to make healthy food for her children would one day reach the mainstream American diet.

I’m sure part of Elizabeth’s success is driven by the way she shares her passion. It was evident as she sorted through the day’s harvest of fresh basil, and even as she tried to educate me in the ways of torta-ology, something requiring me to wear a lab coat and hairnet. Afterwards, we did a tasting of Rising Sun Farms award-winning tortas, including the newest installment, the chocolate mocha, which recently won accolades at the World Cheese Awards in London and Wisconsin.

If you’d like to visit, drop by their cozy tasting room, where you can taste those tortas, tour the herb and flower gardens, and sip some of the red wines that Richard crafts from Southern Oregon varietals.

You can see me in that oh-so-fashionable hairnet on today’s video. And, check out some of the many other artisan producers – like Dagoba Chocolate, Rogue Creamery, Butte Creek Mill, and Harry & David — whose creations you can sample on a trip to Southern Oregon during Oregon Bounty. You’ll find them in the Culinary Discoveries section of Southern Oregon on the website. Tomorrow, we’re on the road to Central Oregon. See you then.


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