Maple weekends a big hit
WEST CHAZY — Maple sugar season kicked off with a bang the past two weekends, once again solidifying the industry as a true North Country staple.
“It was fantastic, way more people attended than expected,” Laura Parker, co-owner of Parker Family Maple Farm in West Chazy, said.
“If we knew beforehand how big it would be we would have gotten more food trucks and beer, the people here from OVAL craft brewing were swamped of course.”
Tradition since 1995
Parker’s, along with several other sugar houses in the region and 140 across the state, held open weekends this month to signify the kickoff of maple season, a tradition since 1995.
The event features tours, a tractor ride, free tastings of various maple products and the annual pancake breakfast.
A highlight was last Friday night with a fireworks display, food trucks and beer provided by OVAL craft brewing.
“It’s more of an open house than anything,” Parker said.
“It’s an opportunity for us to share our process with the community and to let them see how it is all made. People can sample our products for free. Really it is about being part of the community.”
Smells like pancakes
Throughout the weekends, families wandered around the farms, learning how maple syrup is made and enjoying the many treats.
“This place smells like pancakes, mom,” one kid said after walking into the building.
The pancake breakfast was popular amongst attendees with a line leading out of the doors of the building. Similarly, the gift shop was packed with attendees waiting to secure their purchase of maple products before leaving.
“We love maple weekends,” one father said.
“We try to come out for it at least once a year.”
Support them when I can
The pancake breakfast included an all-you-can-eat style buffet featuring pancakes, scrambled eggs, home fries, bacon, sausage, maple cinnamon rolls and coffee, tea, milk and orange juice to drink.
“We really appreciate the work the Parker family has done over the years,” said one attendee.
“I like to support them when I can, I have been to plenty of Maple Weekend events throughout the years.”
The farm is run by the fifth generation of the Parker family to produce and provide people with fresh maple products year round including syrups, flavored pancake mixes, candy, granulated sugar, cookies, maple dressing, roasted nuts, creams and more.
“One of our latest products here is the pure maple syrup aged in a bourbon barrel,” Parker said.
“We got these empty bourbon barrels, which still have the residue inside, so we fill them up with syrup and let it soak in the flavors of not only the bourbon, but the wood too.”
The family business dates back to when Adolphus & Amelia Parker emigrated from Canada to purchase an acre of land in 1884. Five years later, in 1889, they purchased an adjoining 60 acres to create a dairy farm and maple sugaring operation.
This farm was passed down from Adolphus to his son, Pearlie Parker, then to his son Earl Parker who passed away Nov. 9, 2022. The farm is now run by his son, Michael Parker and wife Laura.
Parker Family Maple Farm produces upwards of 60,000 gallons of Maple Syrup every maple season.
“We are the biggest maple producer in the state,” Parker said.
“It’s a very big thing in this area and especially in Vermont.”
Old process, new technology
There are approximately 100,000 taps feeding to 30 collection points, which are picked up and transported to the farm and stored in a silo.
The sugar house utilizes reverse osmosis machines to separate water from the raw sap, which is then run through a massive steam evaporator, which runs at approximately 220 degrees, to concentrate the sap.
“We are one of the first maple farms in the area to adopt this newer technology,” Parker said.
“We are pumping sap from trees all over, as far as 40 miles away, we used to use buckets and collected them manually one by one. Some of the trees closer to this location do still have buckets for demonstration purposes, but we use tubes now.”
Back from COVID
Most of the crowd was inside of the sugar house, where the syrup and other maple products are made, tables were set up for kids to color informational maple syrup sheets.
Attendees could sample syrup, maple candies, ice cream and cotton candy.
The Parker Family hosted a Maple Weekend in 2022 on a smaller scale in response to the pandemic, however, this year was almost back to normal.
“Coming back from a two year break, due to COVID, we kind of had to pull it back because we didn’t know how it would play out,” Parker said.
“We are super grateful for this year’s turnout, last weekend we had a ton of people coming in.”