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 Persephone Farm’s market booth, 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 the Hollywood Farmers Market, 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.
Gabbi Haber has been a volunteer and board member at Hollywood Farmers Market for the past three years. On Saturdays June through March you can find her working Persephone Farm’s booth at the market. She also blogs about food and farms at More Than We Eat.