Melissa Beatty: Farming to bring a family closer

Courtesy Photo
Melissa Beatty has turned berry farming into a career and way of life.

For a decade after moving to Vermont, Melissa Beatty and her husband Russ took their kids to the Charlotte Berry Farm on Route 7. “The kids always enjoyed it,” she said.

In 2013, the couple saw that the farm was for sale and, deciding that it was time to do something different, they purchased the property. “We wanted to do something as a family,” Beatty recalls.

Prior to purchasing the farm, Beatty worked as a licensed veterinary technician and she still does that work in the off-season. Russ works full-time as a quality manager at Keurig but finds time to do the tractor and brush hog work on the farm. Kyle and Liam, now in twelfth and seventh grades respectively, help out when they can.

Beatty takes care of the farm stand which is open from June to the end of October. She bakes and makes jam to be sold at the stand and prunes the various bushes. The farm has 15 additional employees from June to August. Beatty likes to hire local high school and college kids, many of whom come back year after year. Some have been with the farm since the couple took over.

The Charlotte Berry Farm grows strawberries, blueberries, red, black and fall raspberries, blackberries, and pumpkins. This year marks the return of pick-your-own blackberries, which were replanted after a multi-year absence.

Beatty considers the strawberries to be the most challenging crop since they are low to the ground and susceptible to rot, frost, and predators. “We can get two good weeks with strawberries,” she said, “but sometimes that’s all there is.”

Beatty didn’t grow up picking berries. “My grandmother took us to a place in Maine where blueberries came off a conveyor belt,” she said. “When I came to Vermont, I learned you could pick blueberries and I found that I liked it. Blueberries are what drew me to this farm in the first place.”

Likewise, making jam out of berries is a newfound skill and although she grew up with a mother who baked, her output far exceeds that of her childhood kitchen.

Beatty is on the farm year-round, taking care of the plants. She is currently winterizing the raspberry crop by getting rid of the dead branches and soon she will move on to the blueberries which she prunes from November to February.

The blueberries are the farm’s most plentiful and popular crop but there are also a number of people who come just to pick black raspberries for jams and pies. Many customers are regulars, including an older couple from Pennsylvania who come and pick berries for two days straight.

There are also a number of local regulars. “You can tell,” said Beatty, “because they know exactly where they are going.” She also enjoys the tourists who are seeing blueberry bushes for the first time.

The farm has some unused acreage and Beatty hopes to expand the crop, something that has taken longer than anticipated as Russ continues to work fulltime. For now, she enjoys the variety of the work.

“It’s always something different,” she said. “It’s nice to see all the new plants and learn how they survive and how to make them better.”

The Charlotte Berry Farm has been a learning process for the family. “It’s brought us together so that goal has been met,” Beatty said. “It’s a lot of sweat and a lot of education.”

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