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Strawberries got a slow start but finish up sweet

ADDISON COUNTY — It might have seemed to the casual observer that this year’s strawberry crop, after enduring cold, wet and all-around gross spring weather, had hunkered down in the mud, crossed its proverbial arms and petulantly refused to grow.
But fear not. The strawberries have arrived.
“The weather delayed our crop by over a week, but the plants still look super healthy and are loaded with fruit,” said Sarah Park, co-owner of Full Belly Farm in Monkton.
Full Belly is hoping to harvest about 40,000 pounds of organic strawberries this year, half of which will be sold through their farm stand and half through wholesale to grocery stores and restaurants.
“Yields should be up this season,” Park predicted. “A lot of our varieties are still flowering, which means we could be looking at an extended season of picking — maybe into mid- to late July if we’re lucky. We’re picking a brand new field, which doesn’t hurt.”
And word is getting out.
“Last weekend was our best pick-your-own turnout ever,” she said.
Farther east in Monkton the story was the same.
“We were about 10 days late,” said Eugenie Doyle of Last Resort Farm. “It was too cold and too wet. But our strawberries were in the ground already — they didn’t have to be planted, so at least it wasn’t a question of having to go out and work wet soil.”
SIX-YEAR-OLD Layla and her brother Mazin, 9, from Bristol show some off the succulent strawberries their mother Jennifer Kiewit bought on Tuesday at the Full Belly Farm in Monkton. The heavy rain prevented them from picking the fruit, but they will probably be thinking of warm summer nights when they eat the berries.
Independent photo/Steve James
The key word for this season, she added, is “patience.”
“Organic local strawberries are something people wait for all year and they’re happy to wait a little longer,” she said.
And many of them are loyal customers.
“We’ve been doing this for many, many years. We have the same people coming to pick as we did 30 years ago, and now they’re bringing their kids and grandkids.”
In Middlebury, Marblerose Farm off Route 116 is producing half-dollar-size organic strawberries, said owner Tom Kruk.
And eager customers are taking them away as soon as they ripen.
“Last week I posted on Front Porch Forum about our weekend U-pick hours,” Kruk said. “It was so busy, I had to get someone to help me just with the parking. We were picked clean before Sunday.”
On Tuesday morning, before another round of rain set it, one Marblerose customer picked three quarts in about 10 minutes, Kruk said.
Predictably, sales at established retail stores are also off to a slow start.
“I’ve been the buyer here for 11 years and this is the latest season I’ve ever experienced,” said Kira Winslow, produce manager at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op.
Strawberries have been “dribbling in so far,” she said, but the Co-op was expecting to get quarts this week from Wood’s Market Garden, an organic grower in Brandon.
Jon and Courtney Satz of Wood’s Market are considered among the premier strawberry growers in the region. The Independent wasn’t able to reach them for this story, but the farm has been keeping its customers updated through its Facebook page.
Wood’s Market picked its very first strawberries if 2019 on June 18. Five days later they were picking the Sable variety of strawberries and offering them up — along with biscuits and cream — at their farm stand.
“We are a few days into the summer season on berries,” they informed one customer Monday morning. “The past few years we’ve extended our season with ‘everbearing’ strawberries as well, which ripen later in the summer and into the fall. We will have those at the farm stand after summer berries.”
The spring weather hasn’t stopped local strawberry festivals, either. Around the county, three were scheduled for this week — June 24 in Vergennes, June 27 in Shoreham and June 30 in Monkton.
“Sunday’s festival in Monkton will end up coming at about the peak of our season, so that’ll be nice,” said Doyle of Last Resort.
STRAWBERRY PICKING SEASON began a little late because of the poor spring weather, but Stephen Park, who runs Full Belly Farm on Davis Road in Monkton, still expects to produce 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of berries this summer.
Independent photo/Steve James
According to the 2019 Local Food & Farm Guide put out by the Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN), the Champlain Valley boasts at least 21 farms that grow and sell strawberries. Sadly, after more than four decades in the business, Douglas Orchards in Shoreham decided that 2018 would be their last year selling strawberries (but they still have cherries).
This month, Last Resort and the rest of Vermont’s growers have been getting much-needed shout-outs from Rooted in Vermont — a movement started by the Vermont Farm to Plate Network — which launched a statewide radio campaign encouraging consumers to head out to their local strawberry patches, farm stands and markets.
“We wait all year to buy these berries,” said Annie Harlow, who works with ACORN, Rooted in Vermont and other local food organizations. “But the weather really matters. Thankfully, this spring the rain ended up being good — the plants had a strong vegetative state. But then the question becomes, ‘Where’s the sun?’ The worst-case scenario is when the berries are ripe and then it rains and no one wants to come pick them.”
Even as she checks and rechecks the weather, Harlow has been thinking about ways to “extend” the strawberry season.
“You get the perfect day, like we had last weekend, and you go out into the field and you overpick, right? Maybe your eyes are bigger than your stomach and you say to yourself, ‘What am I doing? This is crazy!’ But you keep picking anyway because it’s a perfect day and these strawberries are so beautiful and juicy.”
What to do with all those extra strawberries?
“Flash freeze them. Or make jam. Or pack them into the freezer for future smoothies, so that when winter comes you can think back to that beautiful June day when you picked them.”
Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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