Is there anything more Vermont than making maple syrup? We all look forward to those warmer winter days and cold nights because we know the maple sap will be running. The history, the community, the sweet flavor, the fact that sugaring happens only once a year. All of these things come together to make sugaring season a very special time in the Green Mountains.
Here at DigInVT, we love to share the stories of Vermont's food and farm community. We asked Jenna Baird and Jacob Powsner of Baird Farm in North Chittenden and Trent and Abby Roleau of Gateway Farm in Bristol what it's like to be a maple sugarmaker in Vermont.
Maple Open House Weekend is less than two weeks away. Make a list of maple sugarmakers to visit and make sure you say hello. This is your chance to learn about the tree to pancake journey of our favorite sweet ingredient - maple syrup.
Where is The Gateway Farm located?
The Gateway Farm is located at 506 North 116 Rd (Route 116) in Bristol, Vermont. The farm is just north of the town of Bristol, on a long stretch known to locals as 'Fuller Flats.' If heading south to Bristol the farm is located on the second half of the long valley after passing the left turn towards Route 17.
What's the history of your farm?
We purchased The Gateway Farm in 2014, working with the Farr Family (previous owners) and the Vermont Land Trust. Due to the farmhouse being in non-livable conditions, the day of their closing we got to work on building our family a safe new home. It wasn’t until June of 2017 that we opened the farm to the community with a self-serve farm stand offering farm goods: pastured beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and lamb, pastured free-range eggs, as well as maple syrup and products, seasonal fruits, and other delicious locally made products like jams, raw honey, pancake mixes etc. In late 2017, we officially broke ground on our new timber frame sugarhouse and successfully started a 11,600 tap maple operation while also squeezing in 900 birch tree taps to produce pure birch syrup.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
We are both Addison County, Vermont-raised kids who share a passion for agriculture. We graduated high school and pursued degrees in Business and Agriculture. We knew it was just a matter of time until we picked up our own roots and planted them together on a farm of our very own. Trent works construction during the day to supplement our income as I, Abby, left my off-farm job after our third child was born in October 2017 – leaving to focus on raising the three children and doing more work around the farm, while also trying to expand it.
Trent comes with a history of maple syrup making, as the generations before him participated in the special spring time Vermont culture, and he grew up learning the skills to the trade. I grew up on a dairy farm developing a great passion for farm animals – thus leading The Gateway Farm to be diversified in all things that we have a passion for.
We take great pride in being “do it yourself-ers” as we harvested, cut, and milled all the wood from the land for both our new home and our new sugarhouse. Given Trent’s carpentry skills, we constructed both – and plan to expand the farm infrastructure by doing just the same.
How did you get started in maple?
Trent Roleau grew up making maple syrup. It is something he remembers doing as a kid immediately after school – riding on the back of a horse-drawn wagon collecting sap from hanging buckets and boiling well into the middle of the night. It was something he has always wanted to do, so when the Route 116 property came up for sale with a healthy 300 acres of woodland with potential of tapping and making a maple business – we knew we had to jump on the opportunity. I, wanting to support my husband in his lifelong vision, was totally on board because who wouldn’t want their own supply of pure maple syrup? ☺ Also, I found the entire process and culture intriguing and couldn’t wait to learn more and be a part of the process, and a Vermont cultural tradition.
How many taps do you have?
11,600 Maple tree taps and 900 Birch tree taps.
What do you enjoy about making maple syrup?
It’s a long tradition that long-time Vermonters have carried throughout the generations. Yes, technology has changed, but the process is still the same. Working the outdoors roots you closer to nature, and forces you to appreciate the earth and our ecosystem in ways some people who don’t have this opportunity may never understand. It is a lot of work in a short period of time, but the rewards of the labor are so sweet and delicious – if nothing else, we do it for our pure love for natural maple syrup. One of our greatest joys is watching our three children enjoy the lifestyle and the work (with it’s sweet rewards), during the sugaring season.
Name one of the most rewarding things about being a maple syrup producer in Vermont and why?
Vermont sugarmakers pride themselves in making some of the best Maple Syrup you can buy. Whether it’s our soil, the weather, or a combination of many things – Vermont Maple Syrup is known for standing out in flavor and quality comparatively. We are so proud to be a part of that and the network of influential people we’ve come to know. More obviously, a reward for our labor is the maple syrup itself. And most importantly, watching our children grow, learn, and experience this long tradition and enjoy every aspect is all the reward we need as farming parents. To see our children carry on this tradition would be the greatest reward of all.
What are your plans for Maple Open House Weekend?
Maple Open House weekend, March 23-24, we plan to be open 10am-4pm both days. We plan to have free maple syrup and product samples and treats all day, free hot coffee, sugarhouse tours, boiling of sap to show start to finish, if we have snow there will be horse drawn sleigh rides, from 12-4 both days we will be serving Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla ice cream with a choice of pure maple or our Bourbon Barrel Aged maple to drizzle on top – being scooped by Ben himself! Bonfire to stay warm, coloring books and crayons for kids…we are handicap accessible. We hope to make a fun experience for all ages, it’s a great way to get out and enjoy spring and Vermont’s sugarmaking culture!
Do you have a favorite maple recipe that you'd like to share?
Yes! We use maple in everything, but I am all about HUGE tastes, textures and EASY recipes. This is definitely one of them, and hasn’t disappointed a crowd yet. (Will have a few of these sliced up for Open House Weekend ☺)
The Best Maple Oatmeal Pie
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 cups pure Maple Syrup
- 3 tablespoons lightly salted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 2/3 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 9-inch pie crust
Preheat oven to 325°F.
In a large bowl, beat eggs, maple syrup, melted butter and vanilla until well combined. Stir in coconut, oats, and walnuts.
Pour the mixture into pie crust. Bake the pie until golden brown, about 45 minutes.
MAKES ONE 9-INCH PIE.