With Yields Down, Sugar Makers Still Appreciate Working Outdoors

by Maggie Lee, UVM Community News Service
photo by Chuck Talbert | The Talbert Maple Farm sugar house was working hard even through the low-yield season

CABOT – This sugaring season, Chuck Talbert, a fourth-generation sugar maker in Cabot, only produced about two-thirds the crop he usually does. “It’s the same story as everybody who makes maple syrup,” Talbert said.

He has about 2,500 taps on his farm, which has been sugaring since the late 1800s, according to the Talbert’s Maple Farm website. The main way the Talberts sell their farm’s product is via wholesalers, so they didn’t see the impact on income from lack of visitors during the sugaring season.

Greg Burtt, owner of Burtt’s Orchard and a Cabot sugar maker with close to 27,000 taps, painted a similar story of his sugaring season. “It was definitely down this year,” Burtt shared, adding that it was a “short season, with a warm spell starting right near the beginning of the season.” Burtt is hopeful, however, that future seasons will help make up for the lost crop this year, but knows that this is the nature of the business. “You know, that’s the way it is with farming, I guess,” he said.

But despite the low yields brought on by less-than-ideal weather conditions, Talbert and Burtt both expressed an appreciation for what they do, especially in the past year, living with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Talbert revels in the sugaring season as a sign of winter coming to a close. “Sugaring, for me, it’s a lot of like marking your time and the seasons,” he says. “That’s your guarantee that winter is going to end.” He also acknowledged the good fortune of being able to work being outdoors. “Being in any kind of a lock-down, I didn’t even notice it,” Talbert continued, “I spend sugaring season within this mile triangle from my home, to sugar house, and in the woods.”

Talbert has still needed to make some adjustments. The few sales that they had at the farm have had to be done contactless. “Since COVID hit, people will call and ask, ‘can I pick up syrup?’ And I would just leave it on the porch with an envelope to leave money in.”

Even with less sap and maple sugar this year, Burtt has also found comfort in the isolation of the work. He’s thankful not to have been significantly affected as a business, and cited the ability to work outdoors. “Yeah, it’s nice to not really feel affected by it, just being out in the woods by yourself.”