For the past five years, give or take, I have been venturing to Guilford, Vermont to learn more about how this liquid gold called maple syrup is made. Luckily for me, I have a cousin David Franklin and his wife Mary Ellen who have an organic dairy farm. They just-so-happen to produce maple syrup as part of their overall operation.
Farming these days, for smaller farmers like my cousins, is challenging. The way of life for those who love it, however, is rewarding. The joys of being in the fresh air, working in wide open spaces, and seeing the results of your labor, all outweigh the hardships. I grew up on a dairy farm myself and understand the sacrifices and challenges which must be made in order to make a living in this field, all in order to bring good quality fresh food to the public.
This year, my employee Danny came down to help out, meet the family, and see for himself how maple syrup is made. Everyone does sugaring a little bit differently, although the basics are pretty much the same—boiling maple tree sap down into maple syrup. It takes about 35 to 45 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, depending on the sugar content. At the Franklin Farm they tap their trees and hook hoses from the taps to a central vacuum line where it is accumulated in tanks down at the sugarhouse. At that point it is drawn into the evaporator which is where the boiling takes place. The sweet-smelling steam that rises from a classic sugar shack is intoxicatingly light and uplifting. Neighbors begin to pop in for samples of the fresh syrup which David generously supplies. They even help with the furnace and other chores as soon as they see the billowing cloud rising above the sugarhouse.
David and Mary Ellen bought the farm from David’s uncle and aunt about 30 years ago. They have become pillars of their local community and rarely pay for labor at the sugarhouse because neighbors, friends, and family are always glad to help. It’s refreshing to be on the farm. Though the Franklins may not pay in dollars for the assistance, they are generous in sharing maple syrup, organic beef, fresh eggs, and other farm products with the people who help them out, or they return the favor in other ways when they need help. It’s a true Vermont community at its best.
I’m not sure if they have a mission statement, but from my point of view, their mission is to preserve the Vermont way of life. They have a small store on the property where people enter and help themselves, making their purchases on the honor system, and in turn getting the freshest possible product. Though David and Mary Ellen started out doing farming the modern traditional way which was to make as much milk as possible, they discovered over time that they could do better with less effort and create a better product by going the organic route. Stringent requirements are firmly enforced to maintain organic status, but once in place the rewards are clear for a farm of this size. On the Franklin Farm, like many small farms, diversity is key. They sell wood, make maple syrup, produce milk, eggs and beef, and enjoy it all. If you’re ever down in Guilford, feel free to stop in and say hi, or to buy some of the freshest farm goods you can find.
Just a note: Some people feel that maple syrup all tastes the same, but after sampling from a few different sugar houses, fresh from the tap, and though we haven’t found a syrup we dislike yet, we can definitely tell the difference. You’ll find that the slow-cooked goodness of Franklin Farm maple syrup is smooth and rich with flavor notes and a finish of vanilla—definitely some gourmet quality syrup. Mmmmmmmm good! They have a limited supply so contact them at www.franklinfarm.net and to get some of the finest pure Vermont Maple Products.
We at Vermont’s Own source our maple syrup from a number of quality conscious producers with Purinton Maple (another family run operation) at the forefront. Runamok Maple is also a popular producer in our store due to the fact that they infuse their syrup with different flavors such as Ginger, Elderberry and Hibiscus. They also age their maple syrup in bourbon, rum, and rye barrels which creates a syrup with notes of the spirits it has been aged in to create a product that is delectable when paired with your favorite cheeses, ice cream or tea.
Getting to know our producers has always been very important to us because what we sell to our customers is very important to us. You can be assured that we don’t sell a product that we won’t stand behind. If you are ever in downtown Middlebury stop in and visit us at 64 Main Street or you can check us out at online at VtsOwn.com.
All the best from the Green Mountain State, Dana Franklin