In her 44 years of farming in Monkton, Norma Norris put her family farm at the heart of the community. She and her husband started out dairy farming in 1973. In ’95, they switched to what had been Norma’s sideline: delicious strawberries. They added veggies, more berries, and rechristened Norris Dairy Farm as Norris Berry Farm. Norma was widowed in 2004, but she kept farming.
By the time she started thinking about retirement, her farm was so beloved that Monkton dedicated the 2016 town report to her, highlighting her generosity: she supplied berries for events like the library’s annual Strawberry Festival and gave many kids their first job and their first taste of what Norma calls “the merits of hard work.”
The 108-acre farm’s stunning views and easy commuter access to Middlebury and Burlington made it a prime spot for housing developments. Instead, Norma sold the farm to VLT in 2016 to ensure that her land would stay in farming. “It just seemed like the right thing to do,” says Norma, who now lives in a new house just down the road. “We had possibilities where we could have sold lots, but it’s just, I think, the prettiest spot on earth, and there’s always been something very special about what grew there because it’s so good.”
Stephen and Sarah Park heard about Norris Berry Farm just after they returned from their honeymoon and soon pitched a business proposal to VLT’s Farmland Access Program. “They had lots of good experience growing berries and vegetables, and were the best fit for this property,” says VLT’s Allen Karnatz.
The Parks began leasing the farm in 2017 and called their new enterprise Full Belly Farm. Last summer, they purchased the farm outright. Since then, they’ve built four new greenhouses, expanded the farmstand, planted a half acre of raspberries, and increased strawberry production.
“We love seeing our produce enjoyed by others and finding ways to improve what we do,” says Sarah. “We are now starting to see the results of our work play out over time. Progress can seem slow, but we are pouring our energy into this place and it is making a difference. Every day it feels a little more like it’s ours.”
Story by Gaen Murphree. Photos by David Middleton.