Vermont’s maple syrup season is well underway, and producers are pivoting to adapt to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
At Templeton Farm in East Montpelier, Sherry Miller and her family now sell pure, all-natural syrup a bit differently. Instead of hosting open houses like in past seasons, there’s a self-serve farmstand on the porch for both their maple and beef.
“We had people who had never actually purchased from us before that would call and say, ‘We need a safe place to go and buy,’” Miller recalled. “Some of them had cancer in the family — they were being super cautious.”
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At his annual ceremonial tree-tapping Thursday, Gov. Phil Scott praised pivots like that, and celebrated his state’s leadership in the maple industry. The event was kept small and low-key, without media invited to attend, because of coronavirus prevention guidelines, the governor’s office explained.
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets provided NECN with video of the tapping, some of which the station used in the televised version of this story.
Despite its small size, Vermont produces more than half of all the maple syrup from the U.S., according to state agriculture officials. That was roughly 2 million gallons last year — a crop worth more than $50 million.
“It’s good for the woods of Vermont,” said Barbara LeGrand-Bragg of Bragg Farm of the state’s maple syrup industry.
Bragg Farm, which is also in East Montpelier, is open for masked, in-person shopping in the age of coronavirus, but to make up for fewer tourist visits, LeGrand-Bragg said the business is shipping more maple to fill online orders.
“All over the country, out of the country,” LeGrand-Bragg said of where her orders come from. “That is what people did to support Vermonters. All our [agriculture] friends were saying they were getting all kinds of orders.”
Pre-pandemic, maple producers were famous this time of year for hosting big events like pancake breakfasts that drew crowds to learn about the industry. Those same businesses, though, may not be welcoming visitors this year.
“My recommendation is, if they have a local sugar house that they love, check with that sugar house first,” Allison Hope of the trade group Vermont Maple Sugar Makers advised consumers. “Otherwise, the easiest thing to do is go to VermontMaple.org and just look on the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ website to see what’s going on.”
Hope added that some sugarhouses are large enough to allow them to invite guests in, following COVID-19 prevention protocols. That is why she emphasized checking with the producer before making the trip.
In woods across the region, maple producers are now hoping for a long stretch of nights below freezing and days above. That pattern keeps the sap flowing and makes the season longer.