February 7, 2107 / Underhill Ctr. - Watched over by the heights of Mount Mansfield, yet tucked away in the rolling hills, picturesque back roads and stately maple trees of Underhill Center, sits arguably one of Vermont’s most important research facilities. There is no fence, no security, not even a front desk to greet you as you enter, just a sign to indicate you have not yet left civilization. As you walk the halls turning tight corners and avoiding equipment and other lab items along the way, any one of a number of researchers may greet you, as if to say “glad you could come”.
Perhaps this openness is due to a common mission, one that most folks likely support. Because when it comes to all things maple, the Proctor Maple Research Center and Vermonters are working towards the same goal: a successful and healthy maple syrup and forest industry.
As the calendar slowly moves deeper into 2018, maple producers are watching the weather, and anticipating the upcoming sugaring season, checking tubing and readying their sugarhouses. Typically arriving sometime in March, sugaring season brings excitement for maple syrup, but also spring, as both signal our lengthening days, warming weather, and our upcoming agricultural season. In no small way, our sugar makers are producing Vermont’s sweetest crop of the year.
To support our hard-working maple producers, Rachel Floyd of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture recently travelled to the research center to tour the facility, to learn how their research is supporting the maple industry, and how the health of the maple forest is integral to the success of our maple syrup producers. Her guide in this tour was maple researcher Mark Isselhardt, who works for the UVM Extension Service, the operators of the Proctor Maple Research facility.
Through a short but descriptive presentation and syrup tasting, Isselhardt described Vermont as a somewhat unique geographic location for maple trees, with a beneficial environment to support sugar maples, and spoke of the history of the maple syrup industry in Vermont. Both of these factors contribute to the explanation as to why our small state leads the country, by far, in maple syrup production.
Both Floyd and Isselhardt also spoke of the recent departure of long-time maple expert Henry Mackres from the Agriculture Agency as large boots to fill. Henry served for over 30 years as Consumer Protection Chief before retiring last fall, and accumulated years of maple knowledge and skill, which he shares willingly with all. Rachel Floyd has been hired as the new Consumer Protection Chief for the Agency, and hopes to quickly grow her maple knowledge to better serve Vermont’s maple community. Mark, Rachel and other Agency of Agriculture members are assuming various responsibilities that Henry Mackres once held, so please contact Mark at UVM Extension or the Agency if you have any questions or concerns.
So as we endure another February snowstorm, we look to March, and the upcoming sugaring season as hope for another spring. To celebrate this we encourage you to plan for the Maple Open Weekend with participating maple syrup producers, who open up their sugaring operations to visitors. This is a celebration of our local economy and Vermont traditions, as well as value-added agriculture in Vermont, and provides residents and tourists alike an opportunity to see how these operations provide benefits to our communities. Maple Open Weekend is March 24th and 25th. Participating maple producers can be found at the Vermont Maple Association website, www.vermontmaple.org .