While some Vermonters may think of warmer temperatures, melting ice and muddy dirt roads as signaling the beginnings of a promising spring, Murray Thompson has a different cue for the start of the season: sap.
Thompson operates his namesake farm off of Middle Rd. and seems to have maple syrup running through his veins. Having grown up in the same house he lives in now, he has been tapping the maple trees on his 18-acre sugarbush for his entire life, just as his father did and his father before him.
“Some ancestor moved here in 1797 and we haven’t left yet,” he said.
While it’s impossible for Thompson to know whether those first settlers on the land tapped the maple trees, the remnants of several barns still on the property give him a clue that it’s been going on for a while at the farm.
Thompson saw his first sap run last week and got right to boiling; a little late in the season for the action to begin, but he said the first batches are looking promising.
One side of the barn is filled to the brim with firewood ready for the oven, cut by his neighbor, Dick Pecor, who has helped Thomspon out with his process since he moved to the house next door 30 years ago. Thompson said he hopes to use the entire lot of wood by the end of the maple syrup season.
“If we use it all, that means it was a good season,” he said.
Thompson spoke with his eyes on the evaporator, walking around the equipment and checking water levels and density of the liquid, waiting for the right moment to release the next batch of boiled syrup.
While it takes hours for enough water to evaporate off of the sap to form syrup, Thompson has to be monitoring the process almost constantly to ensure his syrup is up to snuff in accordance with regulations. His favorite part of the process?
“Quality control,” he said, laughing. He admitted he’ll drink several of the tester bottles of the stuff after the first few runs of the season, when the syrup, in his opinion, tastes the best.
While the Thompson family has been sugaring for almost the entirety of their tenure on their land, Thompson said he had to set the business aside when his dairy operation got too busy for him to manage both.
However, he was able to start doing it on a greater scale once again about five years ago when he left the dairy business due to its lack of profitability.
“It’s hard to say whether sugaring is more fun than dairying, but it’s more profitable,” he said.
By that time, though, Thompson said he had to buy all new equipment to catch up with the modernized processes.
In addition to producing maple syrup, Thompson has planted raspberries, pumpkins and Christmas trees to diversify his offerings. He also said he’s going to grow hay on his land in addition to round out his farm and make it more profitable.
Thompson said apart from getting to taste the fresh syrup, he loves the sugaring process, from tapping the trees to bottling the finished syrup.
“It’s really natural,” he explained. “People have been doing this forever, almost, and it doesn’t get much more Vermont-y than this.”
Thompson is participating in the Vermont maple open house weekend taking place this Saturday and Sunday at maple syrup producers all over the state. Visitors can find his farm at 2453 Middle Rd.