Farmers’ markets are a collection of businesses, a temporal grocery store where each shelf comes with a smiling face and a wealth of knowledge about the products they produce and sell. We’re giving our vendors the spotlight to share more about their role in the Hillsdale market community.
By Sarah West
Working in her parents’ Hood River Valley orchard as a child, Theresa Draper always knew she wanted to continue the family farm for her own livelihood. She and her then-husband bought half of her parents’ property while Theresa was in her early twenties and dove into the project, removing some of the old apple and pear trees to diversify their offerings and launching the farm into a U-pick roadside attraction.
Theresa now directs all the farm operations herself, with the help of her three daughters, a small staff and seasonal workers. The forty-acre property sits along highway 35 near the town of Parkdale, where, on a clear day, it feels like front row seats to a panorama of Mt. Hood. The orchards now host a plethora of fruit, including strawberries, cherries, cane berries, blueberries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, apples, pears, and plums, as well as vegetables, pastured sheep and laying hens.
Since taking the helm, Theresa has focused on agritourism, opening her farm to the public first as a farm stand with U-pick and more recently as a vacation rental. The home she grew up in and in which she raised her daughters is now available to visitors wanting to explore the Columbia Gorge or Mt. Hood National Forest, or for anyone looking for a taste of rural living: waking up on a working farm to pick a bucket of perfectly ripe fruit, mingle with farm animals, or gaze over verdant fields at an iconic mountain.
U-pick is at the heart of the Draper Girls’ business. Each June they open up most of their farm and allow visitors to roam, harvesting whatever fruit they fancy in mixed buckets, enjoying the shade of an orchard tree, a picnic by the farm stand, or just the pleasure of rambling through a field where delicious food is at arm’s reach.
Theresa enjoys watching visitors experience the farm, learning where their food comes from and perhaps encountering their first taste of truly fresh fruit. She’s found that her customers are quickly seduced by the bounty of a ripe orchard.
“They just get out of their cars and start picking; they don’t really know why,” Theresa told me.
Sometimes they return to the farm store, smiles on their faces, with flowers or an unripe fruit, sheepishly admitting that they couldn’t stop themselves. Though the farm has guidelines in place to keep U-pickers safe and staff who monitor the fields to insure customers purchase their fruit before devouring it, Theresa just shrugged and chuckled about it, clearly appreciating the compulsion as one that keeps her farm buzzing with customers.
The farm store is like a metaphor for the whole business—a room full of local preserves; cider pressed on site; freezers of cuts from their grass- and fruit-fed sheep, goats and hogs; bins and baskets of fruit; antiques and knick-knacks filling any empty space—where there is likely something for everyone and nearly everything is for sale. The store is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on a self-serve honor-system basis, with a locked green box and a friendly sign manning the payment station when employees are off-duty.
Such open-door policies for their farm stand and U-pick program communicate a sense of trust that fits our ideal of the rural way of life and lends their business the transparency and character of true authenticity. Though the property is decked out in all the cues of a tourist attraction—petting zoo, blooming gardens, picnic tables, a charming farmhouse and rustic store—no amount of trimmings can stand in for the hard work and long hours Theresa and her staff put in to keep their farm an edible paradise, and the generosity with which they invite the public to explore it.
U-pick season kicks off soon with strawberries ripening under a stunning view of Mt. Hood, followed shortly after with a bumper crop of pie and sweet cherries. Visit their website for more information (www.drapergirlscountryfarm.com) and “like” their Facebook page for updates on farm happenings throughout the harvest season (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Draper-Girls-Country-Farm/170708548386).