A weekly series about our food and sustainable agriculture.
Theresa Draper smiles when she talks about growing up among the orchards and fields of her family’s farm outside of Parkdale, Oregon. She remembered loving the feeling of picking fruit right from the trees whenever she wanted, and of helping on the farm driving tractors, changing sprinklers and thinning the fruit. These days she loves sharing the joy of the harvest with the families who come to pick fruit at her Draper Girls Country Farm.
Her father originally bought the property with the dramatic view of Mount Hood in the early 1960s after he and his wife adopted Theresa and her brother. An engineer for Boeing in Southern California, he felt a big city wasn’t where he wanted to raise his kids, and with some knowledge of farming gained from his upbringing in the Dakotas, he planted the land with pear, apple and peach trees.
Supplying area packing houses with the fruit he grew, Theresa’s parents also started a roadside stand where local people could come buy boxes of fruit for canning and freezing.
“They were so busy farming they didn’t hire people to run the fruit stand,” she said of her parents. “People would come and buy their bulk boxes and just leave the money in a coffee can on the counter.”
When Theresa took over the farm in 1982 there were very few orchards where local people could pick their own fruit. In talking with a neighbor from a nearby farm one day, the neighbor mentioned that she couldn’t handle all the customers who wanted to pick cherries from her trees.
“She said there were too many customers for her farm and would I be willing to try,” Theresa recalled.
“I decided to try it and it was crazy and a lot of fun,” she said, chuckling at the memory. “And kinda stressful, too, because you want people to be safe and still have fun but we’ve worked out, I think. Each year we learned and worked out another kink.”
Today the farm offers pears, apples, peaches, cherries and nectarines for people to pick and sells fruit by the pound from the farm stand-cum-country store. Theresa and her staff hand out baskets to customers and help set up ladders, offering advice to novice pickers. She and her three daughters, the “girls” in the Draper Girls name, have turned the old family farmhouse into a “country cottage” that people can rent year-round, and they’re also participants at four Portland-area farmers’ markets, selling fruit, cider and jams made from the fruit they grow.
Asked how her father would feel about the way the farm he started has grown and changed, she pauses.
“My dad passed away in 2007. Every day I think, what would Dad have done? Or, would Dad have done this?” she says, her eyes filling with tears. “It’s really helped motivate me because I just want to make it really good.
“I’m sure that he still watches after me,” she said. “I just know that.”
Text by Kathleen Bauer