“No sprays or chemicals used.” That’s what was posted on Lower Notch Berry Farm’s FaceBook page, consequently intriguing me to visit the farm in Bristol this past Wednesday afternoon.
Currently on the health food kick myself, I am attempting to eat more local and organic produce, which is sometimes a challenge considering I still eat all of my meals in the Middlebury College dining hall.
“Local” and “organic” are words that are thrown around a lot when we go to the grocery store. And although we tend to understand this to mean the food is a healthier option, it is sometimes hard to really know what these labels mean.
The USDA labels are thought by many to be misleading. A food product does not have to be 100 percent organic to receive an “organic” rating. “Local” labels have also been misused, too. According to a recent article posted on naturalnews.com, at more than 175 Whole Foods stores nationwide, many of the supermarkets chain goods are produced in China, despite promoting their homegrown image.
In going out and picking my own berries, I sought to find some perspective about where my food comes from. This activity was going to bring me closer to my food, in the literal and figurative sense. It would be refreshing to know the exact source of my produce; I was the one who was going to pick it from the source.
Despite this small sense of accomplishment, the other problem lies in the fact that we often take for granted the availability and ease with which we can access good, healthy food. It often takes firsthand experience for us to fully understand how each and every bite we take is the product of someone’s hard work.
It would definitely be nice to get out and experience a local, natural food source. But I must admit, there was an emotional component to my trip.
Growing up in the Midwest, fruit picking was not an activity I was well acquainted with. Upon my arrival in Middlebury, my friends from Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut (to name a few) were shocked that I had never picked fruit by hand. It was nearly everyone’s family tradition.
Because of these stories, I was surprised that when I arrived, I was the only car parked in the grassy lot. I suppose a weekday afternoon was not the day to come if I was looking for the “total experience,” but for whatever reason, I had the image in my mind that berry picking would be part of Vermonter’s daily routine. My romantic vision of adorable families running through the fields together had been squashed. Maybe I should have come on a Saturday.
Nevertheless, I decided that emptiness was a good thing. I could pick my berries in peace and solitude. That’s why I choose to live in a small state, anyway.
I stepped out of the car and the heat consumed me. I did not think I would be facing the elements. Despite the overwhelming heat, the field was beautiful. Lower Notch Berry Farm in Bristol is nestled at the base the mountains and featured a cute little stand where you weigh your freshly gathered berries.
The woman stationed at the desk told me to head to the back of the field where the berries were most plentiful. She said most at the front had been picked over and the good sections were in the back. I was glad at this point no one would be infringing on my territory.
Once reaching the bushes, I noticed that the berries practically fell off the branches. Clusters of ripened blueberries were waiting to full my bucket. So I began to pick.
My friends who had spoken of picking fruits had always included the detail that it was a family activity, so it seemed unorthodox for me to be alone. In spite of this, I was really enjoying the fact that I had some alone time. Living in a house full of people, it was nice to get into the field and be left alone to my own thoughts.
As I continued walking and picking, it became clear to me that this was yet another aspect of Vermont that makes it so great and contributes to its high standard of living. It is refreshing that you can be so close to a food source and can even act as the hand that picked it.
The berries I picked were delicious. In fact, they may have been the best I have ever tasted. They were fresh and juicy, and I couldn’t avoid eating a good portion of them on my ride back home.
Obviously, they tasted great due to the fact that they were a fresher version of the kind I normally buy at the store. But I truly think that the emotional connection, the fact that I went and picked the berries myself, played an equal role in making them so good. Sometimes a little hard work yields great benefits.