Maple syrup makers off to a later start


BRATTLEBORO -- According to local sugar maker Charlie Robb Jr., the cold and the wind have held up maple syrup operations this year.

"The sap won't flow unless it's in the 40s during the day and 20s at night," he said. "It's just been so cold. I'll be happy when it gets going."

By the end of this week, however, Robb and others hope to start what they have had to put off.

Another maple syrup producer, Wesley Ameden, told the Reformer that in 2011, the process of collecting sap started on March 12.

"This year's not too far off from that year. We haven't started yet, which is a little later than usual. It changes from year to year," he said. "The weather looks pretty good for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It looks like it will be ready to go."

According to the Whitingham Maple Festival committee chairwoman Carol Mandracchia, sugar makers thought they could have started two weeks ago but the cold weather seemed to have caused a delay. Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association Executive Director Matthew Gordon said sugar makers were slightly delayed in comparison to what was seen in the last few years.

"We're not at a historic precedent by any means but sap's been flowing by now in other times," he added. "We could still have a traditional spring within the next month and a half."

Since he was a teenager, Robb, now 48, has assisted with maple syrup production at the Robb Family Farm located on Ames Hill Road in Brattleboro. This year, he hopes to produce 500 gallons of maple syrup. All of it is sold from his family's farm and is available through mail order.

Almost annually, taps are added to the property as well as neighbors' properties. Currently, there are 3,200 taps that Robb utilizes. His goal is to expand it to 6,000 taps.

When asked if the syrup is shared with the neighbors who share their trees, Robb told the Reformer that they generally just want to see that the trees are used.

Over the past couple of years, maple syrup producers saw an industry trend going towards using stainless steel for the finished product. Galvanized steel was used by some makers in the field. The lead soldering used in galvanized steel was a cause of concern among those in the Maple Sugar Makers' Association.

Robb said the standards came along with rules for grading and it can have a tendency to stop businesses in the state from standing out.

"Vermont's worked hard at making a premium syrup and now we're the same as everyone else," he added.

This will mark the fourth year of Ameden and his son's operation.

"It's a family tradition that kind of skipped a generation," said Ameden. "My grandfather used to do it. My son wanted to do it. So we do it now."

They have used stainless steel for their containers since the beginning.

Each year Ameden tries to expand by designating more trees for tapping. It is likely that he will make 400 gallons this season. The bulk of the supply goes to Bascom Maple Farms while the rest is sold at D&K's Grocery on Route 30 in Jamaica.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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