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Alumni award winner Laura Naumes and her family have been in business in the Rogue Valley for more than 100 years.

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Growing up in the Rogue Valley near Medford, Oregon, in the 1960s, Laura Naumes ‘81 was steeped in her family’s orchard and fruit-packing business. By the time she planned to attend Oregon State University, she knew she wanted to stay in the family business.

November 21, 2022

Growing up in the Rogue Valley near Medford, Oregon, in the 1960s, Laura Naumes ‘81 was steeped in her family’s orchard and fruit-packing business. By the time she was eight, she was helping with orchard heating and moving irrigation pipe on the 500 acres her father, Ed Earnest, owned in the valley.

By the time she planned to attend Oregon State University, she knew she wanted to stay in the family business.

“Working in the orchards and packing houses wasn’t initially a conscious decision,” Naumes said. “I always liked growing things, but it’s something so many of us just did. But when I went to college, I realized that’s the path I wanted to be on.”

It’s no surprise Naumes wanted to return to the Rogue Valley after college. The region – flanked by the Siskiyou Mountains and the Coast Range – is singular in its beauty, and its climate and soil helped the area grow into a powerhouse in the food and wine industries.

Naumes is now the vice president and chief operations officer of Naumes Inc., a leading fruit packing, storage, shipping and production company, and also holds the VP and COO position at Naumes Crush and Fermentation and Naumes Suncrest Winery.

Collectively, Naumes’ businesses hold more than 2,000 acres across California, Oregon and Washington. The family has grown fruit for more than 100 years. Their operations include growing, packing and storing tree fruit as well as growing and processing wine grapes for labels around the region.

Naumes also is the 2022 recipient of the College of Business’s Innovative and Distinguished Business Professional Award, which is given to alumni who are experienced leaders in their fields.

Naumes gravitated toward OSU because of the university’s agricultural roots. While she started out studying agricultural science, her father persuaded her to pursue a degree in business.

Laura Naumes in Southern Oregon

“I think that’s one of the interesting things about agriculture,” she said. “We’re really good at growing things, but sometimes we’re not very good at marketing.”

Naumes’ business education was foundational. “The professors I had at OSU helped shape my life and prepare me for stepping out into the world,” she said. “I had something I could contribute back to the business.”

When Naumes graduated and married her husband, Mike Naumes, whose family also was in the orchard and packing business, the couple bought Ed Earnest’s acreage and began to strategically expand.

“We do really careful analyses of any industry or venture we want to get involved in,” Naumes said. “Before we even started growing wine grapes, we worked with experts on variety choice and how it would impact our current operations.”

Their son, Sean (he is one of the Naumes’ triplets) put in extensive market research on their crush and fermentation business, which now makes wine, beer and cider for labels like Hummingbird, Rellik and Trium, to name just a few.

“We are always thoughtful about what we do,” Naumes said. “We never just jump in.” 

The Naumes’ long history in the Rogue Valley and the expanding scope of their businesses have made them an indispensable partner in the region and beyond.

“We have deep connections with the Naumes’ business and vice versa,” said Ned Ford, CFO and COO of Harry and David, the renowned food gifting company in Medford. “I truly value Laura as a business leader and partner. I see us doing a lot of business with them in the future.”

Ford and many others have witnessed how deep Naumes’ agricultural roots go as well as her dedication to the community.

Naumes was the first woman to lead the Pear Bureau Northwest. She currently serves on the Rogue Valley Vintner Board, the Pear Bureau Pear research Committee and the Fresh Pear Committee. She also serves on the Amahoro Children and Community Board, which aids children in Uganda. She is a former member of Oregon State’s Board of Trustees. She has received the City of Medford’s First Citizen Award as well as the Len Hebert St. Vincent de Paul Humanitarian of the Year Award.

When the Alameda Fire roared through the Rogue Valley in 2020, 30 Naumes Inc. employees lost their homes. Laura and Mike raised nearly $100,000 to help them recover.

“I grew up with my family working on community projects and serving on boards,” she said. “I learned that when you have a community, your local community, your OSU community, whatever you’re involved in, you give back to.”

The Alameda Fire was a symptom of a changing landscape and shifting climate that Naumes and others in the Rogue Valley are facing. A longstanding drought has made irrigation difficult, and a changing pear market has created uncertainty about the future direction Naumes Inc. will take.

Still, Naumes is thinking, planning and preparing alongside her husband and Sean, who is deeply involved in the business.

“We’re always looking at the business and shifting and morphing into something else,” Naumes said. “I think we’re looking at that right now, too. We will still be in agriculture, and we’re looking at ways to add to our business in even more areas.”

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