Living Off the Land: Norris Berry Farm - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Living Off the Land: Norris Berry Farm

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MONKTON, Vt. -

Norma Norris has been working the land for decades. She grew up on a dairy farm, but what she does with the land has evolved over the years.

"I've been here 40 years, my husband and I as dairy farmers for 23 years, and then in 1985 we started the strawberries," she said.

Norma's husband passed away nine years ago, but she continued on working the land. She told me when she was a kid she was always picking berries in the summer, any kind of berries. And when she got older she thought, if I could grow berries, that would be heaven!

I've picked berries for years as well, but I still had plenty to learn from a pro.

Sharon Meyer: Now do you want to pick the absolute reddest?

Norma Norris: Yes, and you want to get a little bit of the stem. Use your thumbnail to snap it and keep your quart next to you.

Sharon: Now if I pull one off, I should just eat that one?

Norma: Yes, you should. Those won't keep as well as the ones with the hull, ha ha. But it will be fine.

But I didn't know there was also a better technique for washing them.

"You've got to wash them, but wash them right before you eat them," Norma said. "So put them in the fridge, keep them cold, and then right before you use them, wash them, dry them, and then hull them. They'll absorb less water."

And also for freezing them.

"The best thing to do is to slice them and add some sugar," Norma said. "That way they'll keep their shape and color better."

The Norris Berry Farm sells pick-your-own berries from the farm, they sell them at their stand, and they sell them to area retailers. But a growing part of the business is Norma's Summer in Vermont preserves. Norma stays busy in the winter, making 15 varieties of the preserves, and all of the fruits are grown on this farm. These jars have won first place honors at the Champlain Valley Fair.

Anybody who works off the land knows that Mother Nature and the weather have the last word. This year, a dry spring, followed by a cold snap, and then warm weather lead to an early season with small, but sweet berries.

"It was really early. June 6 to open is really early. Typically, we don't start until mid June," Norma said.

And word has gotten out that this strawberry season will be ending early.

"I just bought 4 quarts but we ate them all already so I had to come back today," Gail LaPlant said.

But if you want more fresh, sweet, local strawberries-- that little bit of heaven-- you'd better get them soon.

"I don't think we're going into July much at all. A week, 10 days at the most," Norma said.

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