I wandered down the seemingly endless row of blackberries, never stopping long enough to throw more than a couple plump berries into my box or my mouth. It always seemed if I walked just a little farther, the berries were just a little bigger, juicier, shinier in the sun.
Down the row from me, A and M didn’t seem to be having these problems. At one point I couldn’t see them around a bend of bushes, and for a brief moment I stopped picking and listened. Behind me were fields warming in the sun, some fallow, some cover-cropped, and some with that half-orderly profusion of vegetables and companion plants that comes with organic growing. On the other side of the fields, the river rushed through with a quiet roar of snowmelt, and every now and then the shrieks of children’s laughter echoed. It was Sunday; no one was working these fields. The farmers and plants were resting, but we were still surrounded by the busy-ness of life.
Persephone Farm is tucked away between a hillside and a river outside Lebanon, Ore. Here, you won’t see endless rows of single crops, or paths clear of weeds, or large soil-compacting machinery. Here, you will find lettuce nestled up next to fennel standing tall beside corn—and at the end of each row and sprinkled throughout the fields, you will see bursts of red, orange, and white flowers, little havens teeming with ladybugs and other beneficial insects that will spend their lives feasting on aphids.
Here, chickens scratch in the grass, bathe in the dirt, and occasionally hop their fences to see what’s on the other side. A one-eyed cat roams through tall grass and sweet pea hedges, curious enough to greet newcomers but busy with his own routine of guarding the farm.
The only greenhouse you will see here is a warm, wet nursery for baby plants. Once sturdy enough to be pushed out of the nest, all of these plants will spend their lives under the wind, rain, and sun. They will grow on their own time, not hastened by hoop houses or plastic row covers. They will ripen in the season they like best—not before, not after. Because of this, unlike at most farms, the tomatoes will not be red until September, the onions will grow small and grouchy in the rain, and you will find no eggplants, habaneros, or sweet potatoes—they don’t like growing in Oregon.
If you come to one of Persephone Farm’s market booths, you may be surprised at some of the prices. But if you ask, you will hear a story about hand-planted vegetable starts, hand-harvested onions and potatoes, hand-plucked eggs daily from the nest. If you look again, you will see that the produce is washed and sorted with care, that the bundles of kale are all equally bursting, that someone went to great pains to ensure that the finest produce made it to you in the best possible condition. Nothing at Persephone Farm is done carelessly.
In Greek mythology, Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest. She is also, though not of her own accord, queen of the underworld, where she is forced to spend four months of every year. But every spring, Persephone joyfully bursts back into the land of the living, and plants begin to grow again. I work for Persephone Farm at one of their farmers markets, and every Saturday morning, as we unload the truck and start opening bins of produce, it feels like Persephone has just returned to the earth.
When we were done picking blackberries, A, M, and I strolled back down the dusty lane with purple, thorn-pricked hands, and rejoined the party. By the end of the evening about 30 people had come from up and down the Willamette Valley, miles along the highway and then east on these hot, dry roads. Everyone brought food; some people brought poetry; and we feasted, laughed, and shared in the waning summer sun with the buzz of insects all around us.
“Friends and family of Persephone Farm,” we call ourselves; and we love Persephone Farm for all the reasons above, because they care for the earth, and they care what sort of food their customers eat and what sort of lives their chickens live. But I think many of us also love it because, like the goddess, when Persephone Farm is in our lives, we want to grow.