In Bethel, one syrup-making couple wants to return to maple’s roots

Vermont Department of Agriculture

Open Maple House Weekend is a series of showcases across the state put on by the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association to let the public into the lives of local sugar makers.

By Lauryn Katz | Community News Service

Lindsay Aldrich peered into the vat of syrup, getting a noseful of the sweet aroma.

It was a far trip from her home in Burlington to the sugarhouse in Bethel where she and Luke Briccetti now gazed at rows of bottled syrup perched up along the windowsills. But they were excited they’d made it.

They were two of some 30 visitors at Maple Flower Farm last Saturday for Open Maple House Weekend, a series of showcases across the state put on by the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association to let the public into the lives of local sugar makers. The events will continue this weekend, too.

For Maple Flower owners Cory and Liz Krieg, last week was the first time they’d opened their sliding sugarhouse doors to participate in the weekend since starting their syrup operation four years ago. But the couple have been making syrup and selling goods for much longer than that.

Liz, a degreed horticulturist, has been growing cut flowers since 1989 and selling them in bunches to floral designers, brides and shops for years.

Cory, an electrical engineer at FUJIFILM Dimatix, has been making maple syrup for his family and friends for more than 30 years, an extension of his upbringing surrounded by sugar maples.

For years he had dreamed of building a sugarhouse and starting a syrup business, and after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2019, Liz finally said it was time.

The sugarhouse, which Cory hand-built on their forested property along a dirt road and a brook, houses an evaporator fueled by firewood collected and cut on the farm. But with only 300 taps, Cory quickly realized that bottling and selling his maple syrup online would become too expensive to keep up — and that he wasn’t alone.

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Cory saw how small maple farmers struggled to stay afloat as they lost their contracts with restaurants and markets and couldn’t sell out of their farmhouses like they used to. Online sales were booming — but only for those savvy with computers, a minority of small-scale maple farmers in Vermont.

So in 2020 Cory started Maple Farmers, a collective of six small farms in central Vermont that make sugar independently but sell under the same label. Their goal: to give traditional techniques a fighting chance to compete with big businesses and provide customers with the best tasting maple syrup around. They are all farmers in different industries — dairy, sawmilling, stonework, beef raising — who rely on maple syrup revenue to support their small businesses.

Liz laments that some people in the syrup business only want to get the most money they can with the least amount of work. To her and her husband, it’s time and care that makes maple syrup so tasty and meaningful.

“Everything good takes forever,” she said. “It’d be like a caramelized onion versus a boiled onion. There’s just no flavor there.”

New processes using reverse osmosis and steam instead of boiling are meant to speed up syrup production. But Liz thinks those techniques compromise taste. She especially detests industrial canning outfits that take everyone’s syrup, mix it around in a vat and put it in plastic.

The latest trend of sap-only businesses — where people tap their trees and then bring their product to a high-volume processing facility — also goes against traditional methods, something the Kriegs and their colleagues want to curb.

“Even though maple syrup making was here before us white folk came over in the boat, it’s still being addressed liberally as a new-fangled thing,” Liz said.

According to the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing, there are more than 3,000 sugarhouses in Vermont, and within the past five years there has been an increase in production of syrup, specifically from large-scale operations. The Kriegs say they are trying with their small business to keep the old traditions of Vermont maple syrup making alive and uplift others who are doing the same.

That’s the same motivation behind the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association weekend. Close to 100 sugarhouses and syrup sellers participated this year, said Allison Hope, the association’s executive director.

This is the second year the open house weekend has actually been two weekends. Planners made the change to better account for different microclimates in Vermont, Hope said.

“The hope was that we would be able to capture more of the sap flow around the state,” she said.

The Kriegs were excited last weekend to welcome the couple dozen curious guests, like Aldrich and Briccetti from Burlington.

That afternoon, six types of syrup lay on the table in the back of the sugarhouse from the six farms under the Maple Farmers label. Small paper cups sat nearby. Aldrich and Briccetti tasted each one before deciding the first golden syrup from Maple Flower was their favorite.

“Well, tomorrow is Sunday, so we’ll make some pancakes for sure,” Briccetti said, a pint of that same syrup under his arm.

The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.

Image courtesy of Vermont Department of Agriculture

2 thoughts on “In Bethel, one syrup-making couple wants to return to maple’s roots

  1. Everyone around here does that. I’m surprised this is news.
    More power or should I say sap to them!

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