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History of a Vermont Sheep Farm
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A Flock of Your Own Icelandic Sheep
A Flock of Your Own Chickens
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Dreaming Vermont: Relocating and Living in Vermont

My ever inventive husband is always on the lookout for a way to make our chores easier, our load lighter. There is, for example, the Auto Bidet. The Auto Bidet is a series of pipes carrying warm water which sit under a grate in front of your garage. In the winter, as you drive over the Auto Bidet, jets of warm water wash the salt from the underside of your car. We never built an Auto Bidet, largely because the wife is too cheap to pay for the energy needed to run the system, but it is a pretty fine idea.

A couple of years ago, watching his wife balance a bowl while plucking blackberries from brambles, the husband came up with the Berry Valet. A bowl stuck on a pike, which could be thrust into the ground for convenience, freeing up two hands for picking. Or one hand for picking and the other for fending off thorns. Another fine idea we never got around to actually producing. Berry season flies by too quickly to concentrate on anything beyond the essentials of gathering while ye may, and trying to figure out what on earth to do with it all when you get home.

Berry season is upon us, and after last summer's drought, this season looks like it might have some promise. Bowls, buckets, baskets, containers of choice aside, the most important item to insure a good afternoon of berrying is the proper companion.

My husband is not a proper berrying companion. He means well, but he bores quickly and is ready to quit when he perceives we have enough for a pie or cobbler. If berries come at the price of bug bites, bloody scratches, and turned ankles, he'd just as soon buy them at the farm market.

A true berrying friend is perfectly willing to lay common sense aside and do everything to excess. Sanity, and the size of the freezer, would dictate the picking of only one flat of strawberries. A good berrying companion will agree that there's no harm in picking another flat. There's always room for a few more berries, and what can't be used can be given away.

It is helpful, although not strictly necessary, that your companion pick at roughly the same rate you do, so as to finish flats together. Else one or the other of you will be left to stuff yourself with berries while your companion finishes their flat. Since you'll be coming home with berries well in excess of what you can reasonably expect to use, field stuffing is generally not recommended. It cuts down on the farmer's profits, and cuts down on your ability to consume the fruits of your labor.

Of course a good berrying companion labors cheerfully under hot sun and onslaughts of ravenous bugs. Or at least displays a level of tolerance for these discomforts similar to one's own. But they are also willing to travel considerable distances in pursuit of the perfect crop. Across counties, through towns, up mountains, wherever the dewiest jewels lie, they will willingly go, whether it makes sense to do so, or not.

There is nothing sensible, nor cost effective, about berrying. Berrying is done for the companionship, with the spirit of a treasure hunt. I've kept track of the numbers where chickens are concerned. A dozen eggs costs $1.08 to produce. A chicken $3.00 to bring to slaughter weight. Berries I do not cost, it would be too painful to discover how much it actually packed into a jar of strawberry jam. Especially when that jam didn't jell as it should. I bury the cost of berries under travel and leisure, since both were spent in their acquisition, and write it off as an entertainment expense.

Years ago we used to make berry juice, pouring boiling water into a sterile jar with a cup of sugar and a couple cups of berries. An unremarkable use of berries, but one not subject to the disappointment of runny jams. We'd put up 8 quarts or so when we had extra berries then wait for the right time to uncap them.

Which usually meant they'd still be in the cellar come spring. But the few jars we did open would fill the air with the heady aroma of strawberries captured and released. The juice was unremarkable, and sweet, but the scent made your mouth water, and wish for strawberry shortcakes with thick, buttery, cream.

Berries in blue or black, field strawberries, wild raspberries... berries are the essence of summer in Vermont: sweet and fleeting. Gather up your buckets, and your berry best buddy, brambles and bushes will not wait for tomorrow. Out in the hills there's summer to capture and bring home, soft and sweet, in a pail.

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Stories From a Vermont Life:

Camilla Blue
Frozen Gifts
Making Wreaths
Shearing
Hobblewood
Flush
The Fourth of July
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The Farm at Morrison Corner raises Icelandic Sheep on the last hill farm in Mansfield, VT.  Learn about Raising Icelandic Sheep, Raising Chickens, Moving to Vermont and Living in Vermont on this and our other sites.

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