Dreams Come True on Monkton Berry Farm
Sarah and Stephen Park met while working at Lewis Creek Farm in Starksboro. They later went on to start a taco truck business together. “Self-employment was really important to us,” explained Sarah. “If we’re talking about dreams—we wanted to farm. I just fell in love with farming.”
The dream began to come true when they heard about a farm being sold through VLT’s Farmland Access Program. “We had just gotten married and were back from our honeymoon when we saw the Norris Farm in Monkton was for sale,” said Sarah. “My first reaction was ‘hell, no! we can’t do this!’ But then we talked to Al Karnatz at VLT and he made us feel really comfortable with the possibility.” The Parks wrote up a business plan, which they submitted to VLT as part of a competitive process to choose the best new farmers for the land.
“We were impressed with Sarah and Stephen’s vision for the farm and strong farm experience,” said Al Karnatz. “The farm’s previous owner, Norma, is also very happy to see what’s become of the land she cared for, for so long.”
The Norris Farm started in the early ’70s as a dairy. Ten years in, the family brought berries and vegetables into the business, products that eventually became the sole focus of the farm. When Norma Norris decided it was time to retire, she reached out to VLT so that the land would remain farmed. VLT bought the farm from Norma and held on to it for over a year while money could be raised to support the permanent conservation of the land. In the meantime, VLT leased the land to the Parks, and Norma lent a helping hand to the new farmers.
“We talked a lot with Norma,” explained Sarah. “She was very nice about answering every little question we had. She helped us figure out the more important things to focus on. It was really unique, what Norma built. We’re not on a main road, yet 150–200 people a day come to pick strawberries.”
Sarah and Stephen have 12 acres in production. In addition to strawberries, they grow blueberries and raspberries as part of their pick-your-own business. They also grow many vegetables and have an on-site farmstand. They sell seedless watermelons to the Burlington School Program and other produce to the Addison schools. In the long run they hope to use some of their food truck experience to bring tacos to the farm.
“There’s no way we would have been able to do this without the land trust’s Farmland Access Program,” explained Sarah. “Conservation made the land affordable to buy. And the land trust let us lease for far less than a mortgage for 18 months, which was incredibly important because it gave us time to build capital for the business. But beyond us, conservation is important to me as a native Vermonter—I hope that, if not my children, others in the next generation will farm here too.”
Funded by VHCB (with matching funds from USDA NRCS), the Monkton Agriculture and Natural Resource Fund, and contributions from many community members.