Throughout its 49 years, the Vermont Maple Festival sparked interest from people around the world to even the Food Network. This year, the festival will take place April 24-26 in St. Albans, Vermont.
In its beginnings, the festival took place in March kicking off the spring and sugaring when farmers celebrated and promoted maple while educating the public. Once used as extra source of income, sugaring is now a major factor in a farmer’s livelihood.
“The festival is about the first agricultural crop of the year for farmers and sugarmakers,” said Stephen Tetreault, co-chair of the Vermont Maple Festival. “It’s a ‘Welcome to Spring’ initiation for all of us. The weather conditions get better and we’re getting out of winter.”
Tetreault has been involved with the festival for nearly 15 years.
“I was asked to be involved and I was at the point in my maple career that I was on board with the committee, so I jumped in and worked my way up the ranks and taking on more responsibilities,” he said.
The festival tries to introduce new activities each year. For example, a woodsman competition will be brought back this year. Along with the forestry contest, a comedy show will be introduced for the first time.
“Last year, we started a tasting room for things like spirits and beverages made with maple and sap,” Tetreault recalled. “During the festival, we also choose maple ambassadors for the following year.”
Kaye Mehaffey, vice-chair of the Maple Festival, said throughout the years, the festival has grown and changed but stayed relevant while it continues to focus on the Vermont tradition.
“There has been a tremendous growth in terms of our footprint and the number and variety of offerings,” Mehaffey said. “Whereas the focus has remained on promotion and education, we reach a more diversified audience with the addition of events.”
Events range from free bus tours to local sugarhouses, a children’s activity center, an evening comedy show, a photography contest to locally crafted beer as well as maple wine tasting.
Tetreault mentioned that the crux of the event is to educate the public about maple while having a huge push for “real” versus” fake” maple.
“We try to push that because it doesn’t take a lot of syrup for the average consumer to start using it,” he said. “It helps us to move more product. If we convert two to three people a day to stop using the fake stuff and use the real thing, it’ll help our business while educating people about it. Maple isn’t just for pancakes anymore.”
With the various different ways maple can be added into food, it really does make a difference.
“The star of the show is really the maple,” Mehaffey said. “For many who are tasting it for the first time and for those who already have an appreciation, this flavor has the biggest impact on visitors.”
As for the work that gets put into the festival, it’s not easy. There are monthly meetings from August through May with one month off since everyone is a volunteer.
“A lot of volunteer time goes into it, and besides monthly meetings, a lot of background work goes into it, too,” Tetreault said. “For example, trying to find vendors, advertising, fundraising and finding new venues to bring to our festival are just a few things. It’s not an easy thing to put on.”
The Vermont Maple Festival isn’t just a local event, Tetreault said. The amount of people who come to the festival from around the world still surprises him.
“People come from all reaches of the world, it’s a nice thing to see the diversity of folks,” he said of the many visitors who hail as far as China and Australia.
As for the future, Tetreault said he hopes to see the festival continue to be a well-rounded family event.
“The majority of the venues are free because of the great sponsors,” he said. “Without those helpful folks, there’d be no way we could put this on. Thanks to their generosity, we can continue to put on free events.”
Mehaffey said she feels pride at the conclusion of the festival each year, both in the maple industry and the satisfaction of having played a small part in producing the event.
“Last year, I found a very nice message penned on a paper table cloth,” she said. “It said what a good time the family had enjoyed on their first trip to the Vermont Maple Festival. We are already making plans for next year’s 50th anniversary celebration”
Farmers who volunteer at the Maple Festival
- Diane & Rick Marsh
- Dave & Debbie Davis
- Mike Guillemette and family
- John Cushing
- Branon Family Maple Orchards
- Stephen Tetreault and family
- Kerri & Matt Howrigan
- Cathy & Rusty Branon
- Jim Cameron
- Darlene Wright
- Clare & Dave Beebe
- Gary Gaudette
- Butternut Mountain Farm
- Georgia Mountain Maple
- Green Mountain Sugarhouse
- Eileen Trudell
- Other willing sugarmakers who pitch in from time to time
- All the sugarmakers that open their sugarhouses for the tours (This year Branon Family Maple Orchards and Gary Corey)
- All the sugarmakers that donate syrup to the pancake breakfast, which benefits the ARC of Northwestern Vermont.
Featured photo photo credit: Don Lockhart/Perceptions, Inc.