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Summer on the Rogue Valley Food Trail

Apples, pears, cheese and more await food lovers in Southern Oregon.

With fertile fields of vegetables, pastures filled with grazing livestock and peaceful back roads lined with sun-dappled orchards, delicious farm-fresh products are everywhere in Oregon’s Rogue Valley. Food trails, tours and festivals make it easy for visitors to take advantage of this remarkable bounty — especially in summer, peak season for the region’s famous fruits. Here’s everything you need to know about making the most of the bountiful summer season in the valley.

Embrace the Region’s Orchard History

Orchard fruits have been part of life in the Rogue and Illinois valleys for a very long time. The first settlers in this part of the state brought fruit trees, and the region developed a booming apple and pear industry in the late 1800s. It’s also where pear-by-mail juggernaut Harry & David got its start, which is still one of the biggest buyers in the region. While agriculture in the Rogue Valley is now more diversified, apples and pears are still important crops, and you’ll see century-old fruit trees in the backyards of many houses here.

Southern Oregon’s warm climate means apple and pear season starts earlier than most people expect. Some years the first fruits hit farm stands in July. A succession of different varieties means you can find fresh tree fruits through the fall and into early winter, including the region’s famously sweet and buttery Comice pears, which are at their peak in December.

Pick Fruit and Taste Cheese During the Rogue Valley Farm Tour

Sure, you can buy pears at the grocery store, but nothing beats shopping at the source. Lucky for fruit lovers, the beginning of tree-fruit season coincides with the annual Rogue Valley Farm Tour, held this year on July 14. 

During this self-guided agricultural extravaganza, dozens of participating farms open their doors for visits, guided tours and special events. It’s a great way to get your hands on abundant fresh produce, delectable dairy, fresh honey and the region’s famous wines, all while learning more about local agriculture and seeing where your food really comes from.

Different farmers participate every year. Check the website for an up-to-date list before heading out, but frequent participants include Daily Blessings Farm (which grows organic vegetables, herbs and U-pick strawberries) and Rogue Creamery, world-famous for its Rogue River Blue cheese aged in pear brandy-soaked syrah leaves. Several stops have cute farm animals to see, like the alpacas at Lone Ranch, bluefaced Leicester sheep at Liongate Farm and even goat walks at Willow-Witt Ranch.

Because most stops on the farm tour are working farms, plan to leave your pets at home. It’s also good practice to plan your route ahead of time. The Rogue Valley is rural, and cell reception can be spotty in some places. With dozens of participating growers, it’s not possible to visit them all in one day. Grouping visits geographically can help you maximize your time on the farm. Finally, don’t forget comfy walking shoes and a cooler for stocking with your spoils.

Savor Every Flavor on the Rogue Valley Food Trail

If your visit doesn’t coincide with the annual farm tour, don’t fret: The Rogue Valley Food Trail makes it easy to experience the region’s bounty at your own pace. In addition to working farms, the food trail includes artisan beverage producers, restaurants and stores that stock local products.

If you’re visiting Friday through Monday between June 14 and July 22, stop at The English Lavender Farm in Applegate for an unforgettable high-summer sensory experience. Twelve different varieties of lavender attract flower enthusiasts of all types, from bees to human beings. Pick up some essential oil or a bouquet for an olfactory souvenir you can revisit all year long. Not far from there is Rogue Artisan Foods in Jacksonville, a farm stand offering local goat cheese, eggs and meat.

During fruit season, don’t miss a stop at Edenvale Winery in Medford, the site of the Rogue Valley’s very first pear orchard. Today it’s a great spot to taste local wines and pear cider. You can even take your glass on a stroll through the historic formal gardens on the property. Or visit the Harry & David Country Store to shop for gourmet snacks, gift baskets and those famous pears.