We telephoned Pat Gleason after reading "a letter from the country" that she and her husband Roger write from their Sugar Bush Farm in Vermont for the American Farm Land newsletter. We wanted to know how the sugaring was going this year.
"Slowly," Mrs. Gleason reported. "But we got some wonderful amber syrup Tuesday, and had it the next evening on waffles."
If you are wondering why the waffles were not served for breakfast, the Gleasons get up at 4:45 a.m. to milk the cows, and don't take time for a fancy breakfast when they finally get in from the barn about 8 o'clock. Mrs. Gleason doesn't use mixes for her waffles, you see.
The weather has been too cold for the best production, Mrs. Gleason said. The sap flows best with cold nights, in the 20s, and warm days, at least in the 40s, and the worse the weather the better. It was 60 and raining when we talked, and the sap was really running.
The Gleasons have tapped only 625 trees this year, three to five buckets on a tree. Last year they tapped 1,000 of their maples, but they did not want to overwhelm the new hired hand who helps with the work, including the boiling, which must be done with great caution to avoid burning the pans. It takes at least 35 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. They had 200 gallons to sell last year.
Sugar Bush Farm is four miles from the nearest town--so small that it's "not really on the map." This is at the northwest corner of the state, a land of rolling hills and gentle valleys. There are 350 acres on the farm, mostly wooded, with some pastures and enough plowed land to raise all the corn and hay needed to feed more than 100 cows.
The farm crisis has touched that area as well. "Last year income was down and expenses were up," Mrs. Gleason reported. This year? "Well, it depends on what the government does." Milk supports come up for review this year, and Congress is writing a new farm bill.
"We'll stop sugaring in mid-April," Mrs. Gleason said. "We'll be too busy then fixing fences for when we put the cows out to pasture. Anyway, once the buds come out on the trees the flavor of the syrup isn't any good."