Who ARE We Backyard Sugar Makers?

July 17, 2018

There’s something we’ve been wondering lately from both personal and professional perspectives: Who ARE we backyard sugar makers? Where do we come from? What kind of syrups do we make? Why do we engage in this admittedly extreme hobby?

Vermont Evaporator Company CEO Kate Whelley McCabe with her brothers, Patrick and Collin Whelley (and Penelope the dog) waiting for the sap to run in late winter of 2016.Vermont Evaporator Company CEO Kate Whelley McCabe with her brothers, Patrick and Collin Whelley (and Penelope the dog) waiting for the sap to run in late winter of 2016. Remember the cold? 

So we asked! And about 50 of you responded. And now we know a little more than we used to. We thought you might like to know too! So here goes.

First of all, while at least two of the people pictured above are “young” (that would be a backfiring big-sister joke, right there) we syrup makers are diverse in age, ranging from our mid-20s to mid-70s! Like hunting, fishing, gardening, and keeping poultry and bees, this traditional activity seems to be a lifetime sport. Does this help us focus our advertising? Absolutely not – you people are killing me. But can we imagine sugaring into our seventies? You bet! On balance, we’ll take it as a fair trade.

Another area of diversity: what kind of syrups we make. Predictably, an overwhelming majority of those surveyed make maple syrup. As do we. But a surprising number of people (4!) responded that they make black walnut syrup! If you know nothing at all about that, you are in good company, and, having had no idea it was so popular, we promise to blog about it soon. A few people responded that they make apple cider syrup, and other responses included birch, spruce tip, dandelion, and hickory. We’ll be covering apple cider syrup soon (it’s so easy!) but, still, we’ve got a lot to learn and pass on to you about the world of syrup-making. That’s quite a variety!

While the size of our operations vary, most of us produce between one and five gallons of syrup per year, and an overwhelming majority of us do it without the benefit of a sugar shack or outbuilding. Our equipment is quite varied, ranging from pedestrian crock pots to sophisticated drop-flue or raised-flue pans and also including indoor and outdoor wood stoves, cooking pots, hotel pans, various propane burners, bricks and cider blocks, campfires, homemade barrel evaporators, and, of course, a few of our products. Just Google images for any iteration of “backyard maple syrup making” and you’ll see what I mean. We’re a handy, frugal, resourceful lot, we are.

And we sugar for a wide variety of reasons, as well. For many of us, sugaring is just plain fun. For others, sugaring is an activity enjoyed with family, and, for some, a way to remember friends and family members that have passed on, connect with younger generations, or a way to celebrate a birthday. A lot of us find maple sugaring a good way to get ourselves and our children outside in late winter, an antidote to mud season, or an activity that forces us to relax. Some of us enjoy the solitude of the woods, and the intimacy-with-place that sugaring engenders. Several of us use sugaring as a teaching tool, many of us give away our wares as gifts, and, of course, we all love the taste of our various syrups! One respondent called the activity “addictive,” and another quipped, wisely, that “[y]ou have to experience it to know.”

And then there’s geography. While nearly half of us were from Vermont, also represented were sugar makers from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Ohio, Ontario, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin. But even this extensive list is incomplete, for we already have customers in Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Quebec as well.

Which brings me to this request: if you haven’t already, please tell us about yourself by taking the 2018 Sugaring Survey! It will take 3 minutes. And, in exchange, we’ll give you 5% off of any purchase made through the end of July (with coupon code . . . you guessed it . . . “JULY”) and report back with even more interested tidbits about who we backyard sugar makers are!