3/31 S’appenin’

After the scare of the 10 day forecast three weeks ago – it looked like it might be the worst sugaring year ever – its turning out to be a solid season both in production and quality.  The weather was not quite as warm as they predicted and the trees held on through it to remain very productive through some very good freeze thaw cycles that continue for the next 5 days or so!  Then maybe the quality of syrup will tail off and we’ll call it a season.
We’ve made a bit more dark syrup than usual and that seems to be the word from other producers too.  In general the sugar content of the raw sap has been very low (perhaps a result of the mild winter??) – but the flavor of the syrup is good.  My father actually said “I can understand how some people like dark syrup” after years of blasting dark syrup as inferior.  You all probably know that in my mind the Dark syrup is mostly only good for cooking, but to each his own, eh?
I can’t explain how much the sugaring industry has changed over the last 15 years – it really is a totally new beast wrapped in the same thinner and thinner veil of romanticism.  This article is an excellent look at the sugaring industry and also at branding and marketing as a whole.

http://www.localfutures.org/thank-you-vermont-a-bittersweet-tale/If you have questions or thoughts please share – I’ll try to explain a few parts of this story in my next note with the season wrap-up three weeks from now….

p.s.  If you think Hillary is going to do anything to change the gross direction of capitalist consumption, American imperialism, or anything at all to help the common human being I’d beg to differ.  The dream is thin, but perhaps still alive – Please tell all your friends who live in states that haven’t voted yet – “Bernie”

2/17 S’appenin’

Well – I have to say – I’m very excited about how many people are feeling the Bern.  Yep – Bernie Sanders – speaking the truth for years and years and finally people are sick of political bs and hope something different might be possible.  It is going to take all of us to make any sort of long term change in politics, but it seems that there are so many issues that are making people sit up, wake up, and tune in.  Hopefully more and more people feel empowered to fight for what is right and we can “make America great again”.  What the heck does that mean anyways? (No I don’t mean great just for the white rich folks.)
Seriously though – the real news is – I got the new truck!!  Refrigerated box truck!  Wow.  I’m excited and nervous to give her (name suggestions still welcome at this point) the first trip around the city.  I will have my milk handlers and meat handlers license from the state of VT soon – and I really want to bring a few more cheeses (beyond the organic goat cheese Does’ Leap makes) into my lineup.

My father and I had a great trip down to Gay, GA  – the town where they film “Walking Dead” like that is supposed to mean something – to pick up the vehicle.  We got picked up to get to the truck body manufacturer by a genial fellow who was so glad that Obama was almost out of the White House because Obama was going to take away his guns.  We did have a little political back and forth – but it was a delicate dance.   It was a special trip – to get away from the usual routine – visiting old friends of my folks for a brief moment in Asheville (they eagerly accepted two “Billionaires can’t buy Bernie” bumperstickers) and a spectacular drive up and over the mountains into Tennessee and rolling up Interstate 81 through the farms of Western Virginia.  It was all a blur – but a nice quick glimpse of life in another part of the country.

Two McDonalds in two days!! (Coffee and Internet)
We are still getting ready to tap – putting new spouts onto our lines so that once the weather turns it all happens fast.  Yesterday was a windy cold day in the woods with the temperature dropping all day.  Some walking would get the blood flowing and warm the body, but our tasks were fairly sedentary – walking from tree to tree and having to stop and work on each drop – so the heat would slowly leave us until hands were cold and numb and a little clapping, shaking and dancing brought the blood flow back!  It was a surprise to both of us to see that the thermometer read zero degrees Fahrenheit at the end of the day.  Envigorating and exhausting…
Lots more news too -but blah, blah, blah…. maybe next time!

Household Syrup Management 101

Syrup is sticky.  It can be hard to open the jars easily if you store them in the fridge.

 

We keep it on the counter in a smaller pourable container.  Ours is a little glass jar with a simple glass plug (the glass ring broke off nearly as soon as it entered our kitchen).

If you use the syrup every few days and disturb the surface by pouring some out with some regularity it doesn’t seem to mold even sitting on the counter un refrigerated.

 

Basically we keep the quart in the fridge and dispense as necessary into our table syrup container.

 

 

S’appenin’ 1/27

Well – I know I promised my two cents regarding gentrification last time – but it seemed more timely to share with you all an issue that is a bit more related to both the farming community our family lives and works in and the work community that most of you are involved in too.
Undocumented workers.  The large dairy farms (Green Wind Farm is not one of these) that dominate the landscape and the agricultural economy of VT rely heavily on these people.  As does much of the food industry in NYC.   It is a serious issue with lots of layers of complexity – but in my opinion the bottom line is that these workers are oppressed and taken advantage of.  Even in the best situations, and often through no fault of their employers, it is a difficult situation.
My wife has been active with and is currently a board member for Migrant Justice – see the article below about the organization.
http://civileats.com/2015/05/11/will-ben-and-jerrys-help-improve-conditions-for-dairy-workers/

My sister has worked for many years in this community too.  She works with the University of Vermont Extension agency providing health care access and English as a second language opportunities to migrant workers.

The situation along the border with Canada in the whitest state in the union is particularly oppressive.  The boarder patrol can behave with impunity and will wait outside farms, medical clinics, etc. and will even respond alarmingly fast to phone calls that there are “brown people” at the local Walmart (one of the only places these people can go to send money back home to their families.)  These honest, gentle, kind people live in trailers or houses, or apartments built in the dairy barns with sheets blocking all the windows afraid to show their face during the day, even to walk across the lawn from where they live to where they work.

Many of these people are our friends.  They come to gatherings at our farm for birthdays, food processing parties, and Thanksgiving among other events.  In early December a good friend of ours, Josefa, lost her partner – he died in his sleep.  Her sons Jason and Aiden, are the same age as our sons almost 5 and around 2 yrs.   They were playmates.  It was hard for her to leave, but over the holidays they packed up their stuff and flew back to her family in Mexico.

I’m not sure why I’m sharing this with you all, except to promote awareness around human rights and food as we leave the holidays and get back to the grind of work.  This is a part of our life that hurts our hearts and is in dire need of change across the country.

What is an RO Machine?

 

Picture of the machine coming soon!

A reverse osmosis (RO) machine is a filter.  It was originally created to purify water.  Maple sugarmakers got a hold of them, and used them to discard the pure water and keep the contaminated water (full of sugar, minerals, etc.) in order to further process it into maple syrup!

A sugar molecule (C6 H12 O6) is much larger than a water (H2O) molecule.  Maple sap out of the tree usually ranges between 1 and 3 percent sugar. A reverse osmosis machine can increase the sugar content to over 20 percent.  In order to get to Pure Vermont Maple Syrup (66.9% sugar) the remaining excess water is removed the traditional way – through boiling the sap until enough water has evaporated for the syrup to be the correct density.

Though there have been some poorly run tests to see if ROs have a detrimental impact on flavor and none of them have been conclusive (shocker) – it is believed by many that the combination of high concentration RO use and using fuel other than wood leads to maple syrup with less flavor.

Think about it – Instead of cooking something for 100 minutes as the recipe calls for, you cook it for only 12.5 minutes…. How would it taste?  That’s what is happening with 2.5% sap when it hits the evaporator vs. 20% “sap” when it hits the evaporator.  If you are like my friend Orin – the Thirty Second Guy (check out his other videos!), maybe 30 seconds is okay for cooking some things, but for me I like flavor in my syrup.

At Green Wind Farm, we do have an RO and we run it at 7%.  This way we don’t need to cut, stack, split, stack, dry, move into woodshed and burn 70 cords of wood a year to make our syrup, we only use about 25 cords or so!  Seriously though, let us know if you find syrup that can compare to ours on a regular basis.  We always want to figure out how we can do things better.

New in our operation this year is an oil dripper, so we can minimize the amount of defoamer we use to keep the boiling sap in the back pans from flooding over.  We have used local organic sunflower oil in the past, but will likely use an organic safflower this year as we are suspicious the sunflower was imparting a slight flavor to the syrup.

 

 

 

2015! New Syrup Grades

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The syrup is the same – the words are different – as our 8 month old standing next to me says “blah, blah, blah, blah.”  Maybe you should just stop reading now and get off the internet!

Vermont syrup has always been graded based on both color and flavor. In the
past, slight regional differences in terminology existed in the maple syrup grading system. Over the next few years, all maple syrup producers – from Canada to West Virginia
and Maine to Minnesota- will phase in the new standardized grade descriptors
found above.

It’s a marketing thing.  There is concern that consumers are confused about what syrup they are going to get with the old descriptors and also that  “Grade B” means bad.   I’m not sure if these assumptions are true.  Some would say there is a growing worry that massive increases in maple production over the last decade (basically doubled in the U.S. – with little signs of slowing in the near term) is making the big packers nervous.  As such there is a pressing concern to market all this syrup, hence, a “better” grading system.

Vermont is among the first to require these new grades – beginning in 2015.  Unfortunately in our minds, an entire existing grade (Grade A Dark Amber) is split to fit into either Amber Color with Rich Taste or Dark Color with Robust Taste.  Our opinion, is that there is quite a spectrum of flavors from the lightest Amber to the darkest Dark.  To bad people can’t get something in the middle anymore – you can always buy one of each grade and dump them together I suppose!

Ha Ha – our opinion.  They had a big listening tour for sugarmakers to weigh in and in the end the deciders spit out the exact same phrases they had initially proposed years earlier as this grade consolidation concept was first in it’s concept phase.

Pumpkin Village Foods / Green Wind Farm will continue to provide you with the same excellent syrup as before – slightly different names, but, one on the light side of Amber (great for table syrup use) and one on the dark side side of Dark (great for cooking). Make sure your store carries the one you want! In the words of an old friend – “If you’re gonna bring one, bring two.”

What’s the difference between the grades?  Well – “come on in the water’s fine”  – If you like the flavor you’re getting – good for you!  Find a producer you like and stick with them. The difference in grades simply a matter of preference… find the grade/flavor you like for different usages.  Typically though the lightest grade, does not have a strong enough flavor for most people looking for maple, and the darkest flavor should not be sold except for commercial purposes.  Why it is now being called “Grade A” is beyond me.  Makes me think of an old Tommy Boy guarantee.  

Typically lighter syrup is made earlier in the season when the weather is cooler. As the weather warms up, the sap quality declines, and the darker syrup is made. The lighter the syrup the more delicate the flavor.

There is no difference in mineral content between the gradesall you master cleansers out there – use either grade!  The variation in flavor is more batch to batch, local soil differences, or the way the syrup is actually produced.

High RO syrup is often lighter in color (and lighter in flavor).  Oh what??  You like flavor?   Make sure you find some syrup that’s been produced with care.  Luckily that’s what we’ve got for you… only 7% sugar coming out of the RO here at Green Wind Farm.  What’s an RO?  See this post.

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2013 Sugaring Season

The 2013 Season was a long drawn out season. Though there were reports of bumper crops from most maple producers this season, ours was merely solid. Some of this is likely due to our slightly cooler sugarbush location. Primarily our woods face west and north. There were a number of marginal days this season where the sun was out, but the temperature just barely got above freezing… some locations and aspects got good runs on these days, while we got next to nothing!

All in all though it was a good season. It was our second year with the Reverse Osmosis (RO) so our methods were quite dialed in. We still ran our sugar content with the machine up to only 7% Starting boiling in the afternoon and finishing between 9pm and midnight was nice compared to boiling from even 8am until 2 am the following day as we had to do in the past. The general feeling in the sugarhouse was certainly a bit more commercial as the RO would be running for much of the time we were boiling. That’s how it goes I suppose to reduce our wood consumption by a factor of three!

Often Julie and I would gather the buckets in the morning (with frequent help from Vidar and sometimes others) and Steve would start boiling around 3 pm. The horses had a fine season – no health issues. Of course Sam remained lazy and hardly pulled his own weight, while Dot was fabulous and survived another season with her teammate. I’m not sure how long she’ll stay sane if she keeps getting paired up with lazy Sam. Soon it might be a good idea to find another match for her. We would typically finish gathering in time for Julie to milk the cows and I was able to join Steve and can a lot of syrup as it came off the rig. This is great because it means there is no need to store the syrup in barrels then re-heat it. Lots of labor savings for me, natural resource savings on propane, and a lower carbon dioxide footprint too!

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Heading out to tap buckets
Heading out to tap buckets
Horse...Horses @$$ - Jasper in the wagon, ready to tap!
Horse…Horses @$$ – Jasper in the wagon, ready to tap!

One strange thing about this season was that we made almost no dark maple syrup. Our total Grade B for 2013 was around 40 gallons, whereas in 2012 we made about 550 gallons! I know how some of you enjoy that grade B, so I’ve been able to line up syrup from other producers to make sure that you can still find, Pure Vermont Single Source Maple Syrup in mason jars on the shelf of your local grocer. You may notice I’m labeling this syrup as “Pumpkin Village” in order to maintain full transparency. If you are interested in knowing even more about when your syrup was made or canned, see the regularly updated post Syrup Traceability 2013

One nice thing about the season was we were ready for it to start early – which it did – then it froze back up and we were able to have a building raising! A number of friends and neighbors came by and with the help of the bucket tractor we stood the entire building in one day! It’s the new building for Pumpkin Village Foods that my father has been working so hard on the frame in all his free time, now that he’s retired! Ha. Look for a post, and photo gallery on this soon!

Pumpkin House - nestled into Green Wind Farm!
Pumpkin House – nestled into Green Wind Farm!

Syrup Traceability 2013

Here’s my second attempt at a traceability page… first one including a chart, thanks to my neighbors over at Burlington Bytes!

Prior to this 2013 season, I had bought a bit of syrup to keep all my accounts stocked.  Remember 2012 was a poor production season for all producers.  This year, we made almost no Grade B, though we made a lot of very nice Grade A syrup.    See more in the 2013 season post.

If you want to know a bit more about your syrup’s path to your plate… see below.

Thanks!  Seth

code grade label name producer/barrel info. date canned
123 B Green Wind Farm GWF 34-11 and 24-12  1/25/13
193 A medium Pumpkin Village Matt Gedeon barrel 6-12 1/29/13
283 A medium Pumpkin Village Dan Branon barrel 13-13 2/18/13
383 A medium Green Wind Farm canned off the rig!  3/8/13
323 A medium Green Wind Farm canned off the rig!  3/12/13
373 A medium Green Wind Farm canned off the rig!  3/27/13
393 A medium Green Wind Farm canned off the rig!  3/29/13
413 A med – B Green Wind Farm canned off the rig!  4/1/13
453 A dark Green Wind Farm canned off the rig!  4/5/13
563 A medium Green Wind Farm GWF 9-13 5/6/13
563 B Pumpkin Village Gabe Gervais 5-13 5/6/13
623 A medium Pumpkin Village Gedeon 39-13 and GWF 12-13 6/2/13
623 B Pumpkin Village Gervais 49-13 6/2/13
713 Am Green Wind GWF 12-13 and GWF 10-13 7/1/13
713 B Pumpkin Village Gervais 83-13 7/1/13

 

I will continue to make information about your specific jar of syrup available to you carrying forward!

Syrup canning facility at GWF

Remember a few years ago when I posted those pictures of the sawyer, cutting some beams for a building? Well, after another visit from him, some excavation, insulation, site work, etc. we finally poured concrete a few weeks ago.

Now we’re wrestling with some of the dried, twisted timbers getting them to lie flat as sills in order to stand a frame at some point in the near future! Wish we’d had fresh straight timbers, and some true tie down bolts in the six inch elevated concrete we added to keep water in the canning area. Next time!

Pumpkin Village Syrup!? (where’s my green wind??)

Yes…It’s both sad and exciting. We’ve run out of Grade A Medium Amber from our 2012 season!

It was a quite poor season for everyone in 2012. We made about 1/2 the crop as 2011. There was a week of almost 80 degree weather in Mid-March that caused the trees to start budding. Once this happens the quality of sap, and thus syrup, declines significantly. As a neighbor said, they shouldn’t call it maple syrup, but syrup from maple trees at that point.

We are not interested in making low quality syrup. Some people continued to collect and process sap, in order to sell it on the bulk market for commercial use at about half the rate paid for quality maple syrup. Beware: I tasted some syrup labeled Grade A Dark Amber in a friends’ fridge that hardly tasted like maple syrup… some of this off flavored stuff is bound to make it into retail packaging.

I’ve been luck enough to be able to select some of the best syrup from a few neighbors. Thanks to the kindness of these producers, letting me pick through their barrels, I can still bring you excellent single-source maple syrup straight from Franklin County, VT to “the city”. Please let me know what you think.

Instead of simply labeling this stuff as Green Wind Farm, the name of the producers will be on the back of the jar. I hope you appreciate this full disclosure. Look for even more full disclosure in the future when you will be able to track the day the syrup was made, the day it was canned, and perhaps even some back story about what was happening at Green Wind Farm the day of production!