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3410 Center Road
East Montpelier, Vt. 05651

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This year's maple sugaring season a blast from the past

Maple Open house
03.23.2019

EAST MONTPELIER -- Maple sugar makers say this season is starting off like seasons used to decades ago.

This weekend was Maple Open House Weekend in Vermont. Sugar makers opened up their sugar houses for visitors for two days and show off their maple syrup.

Templeton Farm in East Montpelier participated in the event for the second time, though the farm is no stranger to maple sugaring.

Bruce Chapell said his family has made maple syrup for eight generations now. The farm offered free maple cotton candy, samples of the maple syrup and sold burgers from the grass-fed beef raised on the farm.

Chapell said the event is a great way for sugar makers to showcase what the maple industry is all about. He said even though Vermont is the biggest maple producer in the country, residents don't know how the process works or have never tasted the product coming straight off the evaporator.

He said right now only 2 percent of the population is involved in agriculture.

"So I think (the weekend) is a great way for people to see what we do," he said.

Maple Open house visitor

Chapell said Saturday morning was a bit dead, but people started showing up later in the day, and the sugar house was packed by Saturday afternoon. He said the slow start was likely due to Friday's snowstorm where he saw about 15 inches of snow fall. Out in the maple trees, Chapell said the snow is waist deep.

The sugaring season just started, which is unusual for recent trends, but is about the time the sugaring season used to start decades ago. Chapell said he boiled sap last week for the first time this year. He said so far the farm has made about five gallons, compared to about 300 to 400 gallons made this time a year ago.

"I've been doing this for 33 years. And I've noticed that about 20 years ago we started to boil a lot sooner. It used to be we wouldn't even think about tapping the trees until after Town Meeting Day. And now we're tapping the trees at least two to three weeks earlier. Last year we were boiling on Feb. 22," he said.

Even though the sugaring season started later than recent trends, Chapell isn't worried about a short season. He said the season should be plenty long enough because there is a good amount of snow on the ground to cool off the trees at night. But if it gets too hot too fast, as it did a few years ago, he said that would put an end to the season real quick.

Cathy Systo started up Stagecoach Hollow Maple, an organic maple syrup producer in East Barre, last year with her husband, Paul. This was their first year taking part in open house weekend.

She said about 40 people had stopped by as of Saturday afternoon, including visitors from Chicago and southern Massachusetts. Stagecoach had samples of the syrup, and offered donuts, hotdogs, corn chowder and chili. Systo said people could also take a tour of the land to check out the sugaring operation.

She said some of the visitors told her they don't go bar hopping, they go sugar house hopping.

Organic maple syrup doesn't necessarily taste different when compared to non-organic syrup, Systo said. It's more about the state of the forest where the maple trees are. She said no pesticides or herbicides can be used on the property or on nearby properties. The trees in the forest also have to be diverse; it can't just be a forest of maple trees.

She said the integrity of the soil is also tested, and if any substances are used, such as a defoaming agent when boiling, they must be organic.

"It's just really how you take care of your land and your trees to sustainably harvest your syrup," Systo said.

By Eric Blaisdell Staff Writer at Times Argus