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COVID-19 Has Put A Lot On Hold, But Sap Is Flowing

Paul Lambert of Silloway Maple
Bette Lambert
Paul Lambert, one of the owners of Silloway Maple in Randolph says they're gathering a lot of sap, but the lack of visitors and events this year is a drastic change from a typical sugaring season.

So much of daily life has been suddenly altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, but some things don’t change, like maple sap. It’s still running, and sugar makers in Vermont are gathering it and boiling it down to maple syrup, same as every year.

However, a major part of sugaring season is events and gatherings at sugar houses around the state. Most of those are now canceled, including Vermont’s Maple Open House Weekend, which was supposed to happen this Saturday and Sunday.

For Silloway Maple in Randolph, they're having a strong sugaring season so far, but the absence of visitors is odd and sales are way down, according to Paul and Bette Lambert, two of the owners of Silloway Maple.

VPR's Henry Epp spoke with Paul and Bette Lambert of Silloway Maple. Their interview is below. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Epp: So, how is your sugaring season going?

Paul Lambert: Well, it's been a lot of sap this year, more than more than normal. Long runs, not many freezing nights. So it's it's all day, all night. Probably the thing that stands out the most is the small amount of sugar in the sap. Normally it takes us about 50 gallons to make a gallon of syrup. This year, it's closer to 90.

And what do you attribute that to? Why is that happening?

I guess I don't really know. Maybe partly a soft winter, you know, the trees weren't dormant that long.

You’d normally be welcoming visitors to your sugar house right now. What's it been like to not have so many visitors come through?

It's been it's been too bad, really. We spend a lot of time and energy throughout the year trying to coax people to come here and bring their kids and walk out in the woods and learn about maple trees in the process. Yeah, I was just commenting earlier today that the sugar house is kind of bare, with just the small family here producing.

And are you able to still get your products to folks who want them? Are you doing any kind of pickup or delivery system?

We are. Of course, we ship every day. And also, my mom's been delivering to folks just kind of like curbside, I guess you'd call it.

And in terms of how you're going about your actual sugaring process, I mean, everyone's being asked to stay farther apart from each other right now. Does that change how you actually do the work of sugaring at this time of year?

You know, a big part of sugaring is even though we get exhausted and sometimes we don't sleep at all at night, we still try to go visit each other and get the gossip and see how everybody's doing. And we aren’t visiting each other’s sugar houses.

As far as just the direct family here and our couple workers, we're pretty much just still working close together. You know, washing our hands real often and trying to be as clean about it as we can. And we're all super healthy, so we’re keeping that in mind, you know, if one of us gets sick, I'm sure we'll get uninvolved real quick.

In terms of not having visitors come to the sugar house at this this time of year, what does that mean for your business? Does that maybe make a dent in some way?

Yeah, it does. You know, on a day-to-day basis, we sell a lot of syrup this time of year out of the sugar house. And also, you know, missing our big two-day open house. That’s huge for us.

Well, on the on the sap front, how much longer do you expect sap to be running and for you to be working on it?

We're getting real close to three pounds per tap that we've produced, and we'd be happy with around five, so just over half done what our goal would be for production. If we had another week of really good sap flow, and then a couple of weeks to finish up, I think we'd be doing well.

All right, and now Paul Lambert has passed the phone over to his mother, Bette Lambert, who's another one of the owners of Silloway Maple. Bette, thanks for speaking with me.

Bette Lambert: Hi there.

So Paul mentioned that you've been doing some of the deliveries to people around the area. What does that look like in terms of delivering maple products right now?

Well, you can call up, you can tell me what you'd like to buy, and we will drop them off locally. Or you can drive here. You can sit in the driveway and watch the steam rise, and we’ll run your products out to you. But we're really sadly not welcoming visitors. It's the first time in my lifetime, that's for sure. We're always open to loads of school kids and tourists. This is our big time of year and we're pretty well isolated.

Yeah, well, I heard you're doing some online tours, is that right?

Well, I call them armchair tours. I’m trying to do even more videos than usual, a couple times a day on Facebook. I'll take a video of the, you know, the firing. You know, we were making a lot of maple sugar the other day. So, we’re trying to let people in the door that way and still show them what's going on here.

Below, the folks at Silloway Maple are bringing customers and neighbors into their sugar shack virtually this sugaring season, using video. 

Henry worked for Vermont Public as a reporter from 2017 to 2023.
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