• Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Look for the Giant Jack-o-Lantern

Just outside of Springfield, Oregon, as you come around the bend of Highway 126 and cross the rapid waters of the McKenzie River, the observant traveler will notice certain landmarks that look unconcerned by the passage of time. Those who have already ventured that way are probably familiar with the giant rock painted as a jack-o-lantern. It’s nestled amongst the familiar plots of land and, although the Herricks had no hand in the artwork, the jack-o-rock signals that their farm is just ahead.

Pulling into the gravel parking lot of Herrick Farms, you’re sure to be greeted by two things: Paula Herrick, and the adorable storefront that is situated “just so” to welcome anyone who comes to visit. Paneled with wood to look like a rustic barn, this storefront is covered with heirloom vegetable boxes whose faded identifying marks will leave you to imagine what they once carried.

Since 1980, Vernon and Paula Herrick, married 50 years now, have worked this land. But the connection to their farm goes back farther than that. Vernon Herrick grew up right across the street from the farm—in the family home where he and Paula later lived. As a kid, he worked for the farmer who owned Indicot Farms. That farmer was generous with his knowledge and taught Vernon all about local soil content, the way the nearby river affects the crops, and how particular weather patterns of this area seem to make the vegetables dance off the vine.

When the opportunity came for Vernon to buy the land, he quit his job as a project manager at Weyerhaeuser and bought Indicot. Soon after, the Herricks began cultivating the fertile soil, growing the fruits and vegetables that make a repeat customer out of everyone who visits. Their small operation grew quickly and Vernon and Paula realized that with 250 acres to manage, their home needed to be right on the land itself. So, they made the “big move” from Vernon’s family home to the other side of the highway.

With the help of their son, J.R., and his longtime girlfriend, Lori, the Herricks manage the land themselves for most of the year. This has allowed them to stay small and keep the prices of their produce and other products low.

Paula can spot a new customer by their questions about the price of things. It’s been many years since the Herricks have changed their prices, and longtime customers had memorized them long before the paint on the signs had faded. “It’s a funny way to out yourself as a new customer,” Paula explains, “but once you understand the game, generally everyone likes to play.”

The farm’s rich soil grows just about everything.

In the summer season, the farm is ripe with all kinds of berries that the Herricks Farm team waits to pick—or makes you wait to pick—until they are at their juiciest perfection. Orchards of apples and peaches stretch across several acres of their land. Assortments of herbs, fruits, vegetables, and beautiful hanging baskets in the storefront bathe Herrick Farms in a heavenly, down-to-earth aroma.

Pumpkins, and the season they herald, hold a special place in Vernon’s heart. Lori says, “Vernon is the kind of guy who lives for pumpkin season and the holidays that come shortly afterwards. When the kids come for rides through the pumpkin patch, he’s happily pulling every load of them on the tractor. And when the holiday parade happens in downtown Springfield, there’s Vernon—dressed as Santa, pulling a float down Main Street. Simply put, that’s just the guy Vernon is.”

It’s easy to see that the whole family is dedicated to making this farm a beautiful and bountiful place. Everyone plays their part—running the farm store, pulling weeds, watering in the greenhouse, and performing the rest of the countless tasks imposed by a vibrant, productive farm. Everything the Herricks do supports their mission of making farm-to-table affordable and offering their visitors an opportunity to experience the land they love.

So, the next time you’re traveling east on Highway 126 and you’ve crossed the beautiful McKenzie, look for that giant jack-o-lantern rock. Herrick Farms will be right there on the left and Paula Herrick will be there waiting to welcome you.

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