Early strawberries surprise growers
Vermont sees one of the earliest strawberry seasons in decades.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 18:59
Photo courtesy The Last Resort Farm
Reaping the harvest of Vermont strawberries fresh from the field in May? It can't be true!
But it is! I picked some myself as early as last week, before turning the calendar to June. This is the first time in my memory that I've seen a fully red berry so early in Vermont's growing season. It's also the earliest either of my parents can remember seeing one. And they've been growing strawberries in the Green Mountain State for 30 years.
My parents, Eugenie Doyle and Sam Burr, own and operate The Last Resort Farm, an organic vegetable and berry farm nestled in the Champlain Valley region of Vermont. They sell their produce from an on-site farm stand, at two weekly farmers markets (Bristol and Richmond) and wholesale to local stores and restaurants.
At The Last Resort (and any farm for that matter) tasks such as planting, weeding and harvesting could fill twice as many hours as there are in a day. So growing up, my brothers and I would often lend a hand this time of year. In the early years, my parents paid us 10 cents per quart of strawberries picked. We learned to pick fast!
Typically, the peak of the strawberry season hits right around my mom's birthday on June 21 (the summer solstice, also known as the longest day of the year). But this year the season could be over by then!
What's going on? Is this year simply an outlier or another sign that climate change is upon us?
According to a new Plant Hardiness Zone map released by the USDA earlier this year, Vermont is becoming more temperate. This is a good thing, for folks looking for strawberries before June 1 (as long as we don't get a late temperature dip). But the picture is less rosy for other crops; by 2080 we may not be able to produce our iconic maple syrup.
It's unclear exactly what the future may hold for Vermont strawberry growers. But like farmers have done for ages, they learn as they go and make adaptations when necessary.
For example, hardy varieties assist farmers in withstanding the fluctuations in temperatures and moisture levels that may occur as the climate changes. Strawberry growers have many varieties to choose from. Vern Grubinger, the Vegetable and Berry Specialist at the University of Vermont Extension, has compiled a very thorough list of strawberry varieties.
One thing is for sure: the early berries taste just as good as late ones. Try these recipes, or eat them plain, straight from the field is best. Yum!
Try these recipes:
Strawberry Shortcakes with Maple Syrup and Frozen Yogurt (I like this version of the old favorite because it uses a local sweetener!)
Strawberry-Rhubarb Fruit Bars (The tang of rhubarb contrasts pleasantly with the sweetness of the berries. Full disclosure: I’m interning for EatingWell Magazine this summer.)