Sweetness ripe for the picking: Strawberry season at its peak

ADDISON COUNTY — It is 80 degrees in Vermont and adults, young children, teenagers and older couples alike are flocking to berry farms across Addison County to fill baskets, boxes and bins with sweet, ripe strawberries, even under the hot summer sun.
The strawberry season in Addison County started late this year and has kicked into its peak. The season has been marked by dry weather, more irrigation than usual, smaller crops for smaller farms, and berry hungry birds. 
Local berry farms are long-standing components of the community and often rely on generations of berry pickers to spread the word and keep traditions of strawberry picking alive. 
“It’s a good thing when families bring kids to the farm because (the kids) will probably want to bring their own kids when they get older,” said Bill Scott, owner of Scott’s Greenbush Gardens in Ferrisburgh. “It keeps the tradition going.”
County farms draw visitors not only from nearby towns, but also from all over Vermont and even beyond. Scott’s Greenbush Gardens, for instance, attracts visitors all the way from New York.
Bristol resident Matt Lutz visits Norris Berry Farm in Monkton with his two elementary school age sons at least once a season to gather up a box or more of luscious berries. 
“They just seem to taste better when you get them from the field,” Lutz said.
A visit to one of the berry farms yields more than freshly picked strawberries. The Last Resort Farm in Monkton boasts a farm stand that sells vegetables and greens, eggs and homemade jam and pickles. 
In addition to fresh produce, jams and pickles, Norris Berry farm also sells biscuits, handmade by owner Norma Norris so customers can enjoy an early summer staple — strawberry shortcake. 
“They pretty much beg me to make them,” Norris said with a laugh.
The strawberries this season are juicy and sweet even to eat on their own, despite dry weather that led to a slower start to the season. Some owners of strawberry farms in Addison County said they have had to make more use of their irrigation systems than usual. Larger farms like Norris Berry Farm have made use of an extensive drip irrigation system to produce crops that have rivaled previous years in size and quality. 
For some smaller farms, the dry weather this year has meant a smaller crop of strawberries. This year, Scott’s Greenbush Gardens is only open in the mornings for pick-your-own harvesting, because after that the big, ripe strawberries are hard to find. In previous years, the farm had been open for pick-your-own until 3 p.m. 
The dry weather also draws a larger flock of people to the farms. 
“If it’s raining, nobody comes, so this is better,” said Scott Douglas, co-owner of Douglas Orchards in Shoreham.
Groups of people aren’t the only kinds of flocks visiting berry farms, with cedar waxwings pecking mainly at the strawberries and cherries. Winged visitors have already ruined the cherry crops at Douglas Orchards this year.
Scott’s Greenbush Gardens puts nets over its fields at the close of each day to prevent the birds from eating its strawberries. 
“They’re ferocious,” Bill Scott said. 
Strawberries have a very brief season, and for most farms in Addison County, picking will likely stretch a little beyond the Fourth of July weekend before inevitably drawing to a close. But until then, farmers are welcoming visitors of all ages to come take part in an authentic local foods experience.
“The season is going fantastic. It started a little slow, but it’s really picking up now,” said Norris. 

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