Sugaring runs deep in the Vermont woods. The Goodrich land has remained in the same family for more than 200 years, and eight generations of accumulated sugaring knowledge has played a role in shaping today’s operation. A true family operation, Goodrich’s Maple Farm is rooted to the family’s land and its sugarmaking heritage.
Although their ancestors sugared for their own use and sold product as well, today’s operation officially began in 1979, when Ruth and Glenn Goodrich established Goodrich’s Maple Farm, tapping trees on the family land, and using a small wood-fired evaporator, which took many hours to boil a small batch of syrup. This small operation required time and labor.
Ultimately, they expanded the operation and made it much more efficient, building the current sugarhouse in 1990, on adjacent property. Between the family homestead and leased land, the sugarbush is now spread over more than 900 acres, with 45,000 taps. Fifteen hundred of those taps are on the oldest section of sugarbush, utilized by the Goodrich family since 1793.
Sugaring is “extremely addicting,” Ruth Goodrich said, explaining that their business grew naturally from that small operation to its current incarnation as a multidimensional maple industry leader.
Today’s large-scale operation incorporates the newest in technology. A reverse osmosis machine is used to increase the sugar content to 12-15 percent prior to the sap entering the evaporator. The sap is then run through the large stainless steel, 6- by 16-foot Lapierre Turbo 3, oil-fired evaporator, “as shallow and as fast as possible,” Goodrich said.
Reducing man hours via technology has been vital to growing the business. They now fire with oil, not wood, which increases efficiency. Oil eliminates the time needed to cut, haul, split, stack and feed firewood into the arch; clean the flues; and start up and shut down the evaporator each day. Plus, firing with wood takes a physical toll on the sugarmaker. The risk for injury or death logging for the sugarhouse is a consideration, too.
“Labor is worth a lot, and our ancestors didn’t really calculate that into the equation,” Goodrich said. Today, they are “right on top of the technology,” and can boil 5,000 gallons of sap into 160 gallons of syrup per hour, or up to 1,700 gallons of syrup each day, making for an extremely busy time.
“Saving time and effort is key to being productive and successful in today’s industry,” she said. “When the sap runs, we do, too.”
But the Goodrich’s run year-round. The couple provides educational presentations to the industry, offering onsite classes as well as seminars at various regional events. Goodrich’s Maple Farm also sells and services sugarmaking equipment and supplies for the industry, and they are the largest privately owned warehousing sugarmaking equipment supply company in central Vermont. They install sap tubing collection systems and offer consulting and troubleshooting on equipment setup and sugarhouse design.
“We offer a little bit more than your average dealer,” she said. “We spend a great deal of time mentoring young sugarmakers and helping them get a leg up in a challenging field.”
The couple is known in the industry for generously sharing their knowledge. They were the first to offer seminars on sugarmaking, beginning back in 1991. Although knowledge-sharing is much more common today, at the time, education within the industry simply wasn’t readily available.
The Goodrich’s have served the maple industry in a variety of leadership positions in state and county organizations. Glenn is a designer of sugarmaking equipment and fittings, which are produced by many of the leading sugaring equipment manufacturers in the United States and Canada.
“Without new people coming in, this would be a dying industry,” Goodrich said. The couple is more than happy to “share our secrets,” and “provide an educational, fun and humorous approach,” to others striving for success in “a difficult industry.”
Quality, then quantity
Maintaining quality, while maximizing quantity, has always been the goal of this operation. They’ve received more than 700 awards since 1980, and are recognized as a quality leader in Vermont’s maple syrup industry.
“We’ve tried to expand steadily, but at the same time, we want to maintain a high quality. You need to keep a sharp eye on this as you get bigger,” Goodrich said.
That sharp eye on quality has paid off, in demands for their expertise, as well as in sales of their products. Syrup sales are diversified. They sell directly to retail customers at the sugarhouse, which is also one of the top agritourism attractions in Vermont. Goodrich’s Maple Farm offers daily group and individual sugarhouse tours daily, except Sundays and holidays, year-round, with free admission. Special events like the Sugar on Snow parties held in season are also a customer favorite.
Along with maple syrup, an array of maple sugar, maple cream, maple candy, and maple popcorn is made on the farm. Gift boxes for every occasion, including syrup packaged for wedding favors or heart-shaped maple candies, ensures that there is something for everyone. They ship product nationally and internationally. Larger quantities of syrup are sold wholesale, in 55-gallon tanks, or via pallets of 1-gallon jugs. Case lots are also available, ranging from four 1-gallon jugs to one dozen ½-pint containers, and orders can be taken online.
Sap before syrup
Key to great syrup is cleanliness. Optimizing syrup means boiling the sap using best practices. But the entire process relies on collecting the best quality of fresh, pure sap as quickly as possible. This begins at the tap, and doesn’t end until the product is bottled.
New spouts should be used each season. Before they are installed, any water in the line needs to be eliminated by lifting the line away from the spout end. Letting the fluid run down the line prevents microorganisms from entering the spout or the tap hole.
“Maple syrup has no pathogens,” Goodrich said, and avoiding any contamination is crucial for maintaining quality.
All producers should be cleaning their tap lines every year. During the season, the sap releasers at the pump station – where the sap comes into the unit – need to be cleaned regularly, to prevent clogging and slowing of sap collection.
The 5,500-gallon sap collection tanks in the grove are transported by truck regularly, and emptied into the larger 8,500-gallon holding tanks near the sugarhouse. All tanks are thoroughly scrubbed clean with hot water every time they are emptied.
“We really cannot emphasize that enough,” Goodrich said of the need to clean the tanks.
Leaks in the vacuum tubing system are cause for concern. Air leaks can aerate the syrup, allowing bacteria to bloom. Leaks will slow down the sap flow through the tubing system as the vacuum is reduced, decreasing the amount of sap being collected and preventing sap above the leak from getting down the lateral lines. The main tubing and lateral lines need to be well-supported, and kept tight and straight, with main lines wire-tied. If not, “traffic jams” of sap or ice will occur in low-lying areas, and that sap will not make it to the tanks quickly.
“You make your syrup crop in the woods,” Goodrich said. “You can increase your crop dramatically by increasing your vacuum level. You’re going to really increase your yield in the woods. With each inch of vacuum, you increase your crop yield by 5 percent. That is huge.”
“Keep it tight. Watch diligently for leaks,” she said.
They recently installed SmartTrek vacuum sensors to monitor the lines. This electronic vacuum sensing system is installed at the end of the main lines, and indicates when something is wrong, sending an alert via satellite to computers at the sugarhouse or to a smartphone. The technology allows them to quickly see when and where a problem exists with the vacuum. Without this technology, manpower is needed to walk each line, looking and listening for leaks and problem areas. They also sell this product through their dealership.
Main tubing lines are left in place year-round. They are suspended 5 feet off the ground, and are out of the way for equipment and people, and most animals. The occasional moose does walk through, but typically backs out of the area without causing harm. Squirrels, deer and bear can bite into the lines out of curiosity, but damage is minimal and is quickly repaired.
More than 200 miles of tubing need to be maintained, to keep the sap flowing seamlessly for each 3- to 7-week season. At Goodrich’s Maple Farm, a minimum of five employees are in the woods, setting taps and maintaining lines, monitoring the vacuum and collecting the sap.
Trees in the sugarbush are thinned and diseased trees are removed periodically, keeping the forest thriving. Opening up the canopy allows young trees to grow, keeping the sugarbush perpetually productive. Insects are always a cause for concern and must be scouted. Pests, such as maple tree borer and forest tent caterpillars, can do harm to the trees, as they did in many sections of Vermont this past year. The operation employs its own forester, Christopher Elliott of Danville, Vermont, a graduate of Paul Smith’s college in New York. Each tree produces about 20 gallons of sap on average, every season. Maximizing the amount of sap from the tap to the boil requires attention to the system, every step of the way.
Pouring on the syrup
Sap must be kept cool throughout the process. Warm sap supports bacterial growth, so boiling should occur expediently. Once sap is collected from the lines, it can’t sit around before boiling.
Minerals can build up on the evaporator and need to be washed away, or they can cause scorching and off-flavor of the syrup. The evaporator is cleaned daily and rinsed overnight. So is the filter press, which the syrup passes through to remove naturally occurring minerals that precipitate out of the syrup during the boiling process before bottling.
The sugarhouse has been inspected by the Vermont Department of Agriculture and is certified by the Vermont Maple Sugar Maker’s Association for maintaining their high quality standards for maple production. They are also registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a food production facility.
The price of syrup can seem high to those not acquainted with the intensive undertaking the entire sap to syrup process requires. After taking the tour at Goodrich’s Maple Farm, however, many customers are surprised that the Goodrich’s can sell their product at such a reasonable price. Educating consumers translates into increased sales, Goodrich said.
Early sap is light and has a delicate flavor, while end-season sap is dark in color with a robust maple flavor. Visitors are often surprised to learn that the grade or color of the maple syrup doesn’t reflect quality, but rather represents a difference in flavor, which is caused by natural changes in the tree as the season progresses.
In addition to educating visitors to the process of making syrup, Goodrich also promotes maple syrup’s healthy qualities. Maple syrup has no sodium or cholesterol, and was historically used as a preservative for foods. Maple sugar was used instead of the table sugar – made from sugarcane – which dominates the market today.
“Maple syrup is a healthy sweetener. Grandpa and Grandma always said maple syrup was good for what ailed you, and I think they were right on that one,” Goodrich said. “It is loaded with good, healthy things,” like antioxidants and essential minerals, and is a wholesome, pure product with no additives.
With more than 10,000 visitors passing through the sugarhouse each year, the Goodrich family has the opportunity to share the history, heritage and work that is poured into every ounce of their syrup. While they no longer collect sap in buckets, using horses and sleds to bring it to the iron kettle for boiling, as did previous generations, those traditions serve as the inspiration for Goodrich’s Maple Farm today. While plenty of things have changed over the years, producing the highest quality maple syrup possible remains the Goodrich family’s goal.