written by Megan Oliver
NAME: Theresa Draper
My father bought this farm in 1962—located halfway between Hood River and Mt. Hood—largely because of its trees filled with heirloom apples. Well, maybe not entirely because of the apples, but boy did he love them. The heirloom trees are still on the farm, among the twenty other apple varieties and a dozen produce items that grow on our forty acres.
I had the best childhood—three generations in one place. The house that we now use for guests as a farm stay is the house I grew up in, as well as the house in which I raised my three daughters. This farm is now our heirloom. Though currently none of my daughters live in Mt. Hood Parkdale, they are all deeply engrained in the business. My daughter, Crystal, who is 33, does my website from her home in Arizona. Rachel, who is 37, runs our farmers market stand in Portland, and Stephanie, 25, runs the stand in Hillsdale.
We’ve transitioned our business model with the times. When my dad ran the place, people came to buy our fruit in bulk. Stay-at-home moms from Portland would drive out to the farm and take fruit home by the pounds. Nearly everybody pickled and canned their produce in those days.
Now, the farm is about the visitor experience. What was once a group of four or five orchards is now the thirty-stop Hood River County Fruit Loop. So many people are disconnected from their food source nowadays.
They want to come to Mt. Hood Parkdale and see where food comes from. We have a petting zoo and U-pick fruit—which not many other places have. It’s eye-opening for visitors to see where food grows. To actually pick a ripe peach or pet a lamb is something both adults and kids connect with, and they get to go home with a bottle of our unpasteurized cider and a bucket of in-season fruit. Kids are shocked to taste the difference between real cider and the stuff they call apple juice.
Mt. Hood Parkdale is still very small, but the influx of wineries and the development of Hood River have changed things. The community is slightly larger, but the foundation around growing fruit is still the same. I have fewer than ten employees, but I can hire someone from a neighboring farm or a seasonal worker for the day when I need the help. If a visitor asks for a particular produce and I don’t have it, I’ll send them to another farm, such as Rasmussen’s or Pearl’s Place, to get it. They do the same for me.
In the northeast region of Mt. Hood, we can all relate to the unknowns of the climate. At 1,400-feet of elevation, winter could bring three feet of white to the ground, or we could get almost no snow cover, as happened last winter. Our farm is consistently four degrees cooler than town because of an inversion layer—which can be good or bad, depending on the day. There is no way to know how the growing season will turn out.
It’s a business of risks, but I love the rewards of growing food and raising animals. I am proud that I have a farm owned by the four women who make up my family, and I look forward to seeing where the future of Mt. Hood Parkdale will take us Draper girls.
*A winner has been selected for this category* Congratulations to Ashley J. in Bend!