Perri DeJarnette was raised in Phoenix, Md., near Baltimore, the youngest of three children. Her mother is Jewish; her father Lutheran and Baptist.
Religion was not part of DeJarnette’s early life, but that all changed when she started to work at the Pearlstone outdoor education center. Working at Pearlstone “sparked” her interested in Judaism. Through working on the farm, DeJarnette, now 29, started to feel connected and spiritual, while she also developing a Jewish identity.
So you’re a perennials manager and land steward at Pearlstone. What does a day on the job look like for you?
It’s planting trees and flowers. It could be checking on a reforestation project. It’s keeping weeds out of our blueberry patch. One day we had a prescribed burn, and I was one of our crew members who got to light the fire. It’s kind of everything.
How did you start at Pearlstone?
Toward the end of college, like senior year, I didn’t know what to do. I was very depressed. I wanted to find one thing I liked. I was like, “I like food,” and I just decided I was going to be a farmer. That’s when I found Pearlstone. They were looking for an intern to help with some fundraising and grant writing. Half the time it was helping with that, and half was working on the farm. From the moment I started, it felt like it was in my blood.
What made you get into farming?
I took a summer course which was called Nature Writing. We read all of these nature writers and that really inspired me. Part of the class was to do our own nature writing. So every day for an hour we were sent outside to write. I would sit in the grass and watch all of the bugs crawling through, or I would sit in a tree and close my eyes while listening to the wind and the birds. I found that I was happiest when I was outside. In middle school and high school I forgot what it was like being outside, then in college I rediscovered what it was like.
What is your favorite part about farming?
Hmm…that’s really hard. There’s so many things. I love just looking out and around the field, just looking up from a task and seeing some amazing bird in the sky. We have a bunch of amazing hawks around here, and I love to hear their call. I love when it’s a really hot, humid day, and all of a sudden a storm just comes through. It happens so fast you just get drenched, and then the smell afterwards. It’s all of that.
What are the challenges?
I think that a lot of the challenges are that you’re not in control. That’s the biggest one. Farming is also dangerous. We’re working in all conditions and with a lot of mechanical equipment.
Did you start to celebrate any holidays or traditions while working at Pearlstone?
As our little community at Pearlstone, we always do Shabbat together, which is really special to me. It was really fulfilling to sit down with all of my co-workers at the end of a really long and hard week and eat delicious nourishing food that we grew. That’s a tradition that I really hold dear now.
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