I treat each year’s strawberry season as a special holiday. The dates change according to the weather, but it lasts longer than even Hanukkah or the 12 days of Christmas - though not much longer.
During the strawberry harvest, I’ll pick, buy, and eat strawberries all day, every day. Ripe sweet Vermont strawberries melt in your mouth. They burst with flavor.
Farmers here can’t really grow strawberries exclusively. Sure, maybe in California, but strawberries are a bit like corn. They need to be picked ripe and consumed quickly. They’re just not the same when they’ve been airlifted from the San Joaquin Valley.
Around the Northeast Kingdom, strawberry farmers also milk cows, raise sheep, or grow vegetables. And an increasing number of them are young people, staking their claim to a future of land stewardship, starting families, serving on school boards, and providing hope for dynamic next generations of Vermonters.
The young farmers at our local Joe’s Brook Farm recently posted a job notice. They’re looking for an applicant who’s prepared to work in all sorts of weather, lift fifty pounds of vegetables throughout the day and share their employers’ enthusiasm for local organic food. The job includes harvesting, weeding, and some greenhouse maintenance.
Pay is not a lot - any more than the farmers themselves are able to earn much more than it takes to pay a mortgage and keep the lights on. When I stop by the St. Johnsbury Farmer’s Market for some lettuce and snow peas, I feel guilty paying only a couple of bucks. Sometimes I decide on the spot to grab a quart of maple syrup even if I’ve still got some at home. It keeps.
The state of Vermont is uniquely positioned to build a sustainable farming culture. We’ve got specialized cheeses, spices, goat’s milk candy, ice cream, salsa, soap, duck eggs, and more. I often wonder what it would take to convince bigger buyers, like the commercial supermarket chains, to buy more from local farmers – for better, fresher, more energy efficient food that would also support the communities that support them.
And I wonder what we’d have to do to keep Vermont’s unrivaled strawberries available all year. Could it be that more canneries, jam makers, and berry freezing operations could increase our harvest and extend this glorious taste of Vermont into the dead of winter? I’ll bet they could.