Coronavirus: How one Vermont sugarmaker kept things sweet in an unusual maple season

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Vermonters’ appetite for maple syrup remains strong, even in the midst of a pandemic. 

The Baird Farm in Rutland County adopted some changes in its operations in light of  COVID-19, the official name of the disease related to the coronavirus that first started to affect people at the end of 2019.

The farm suspended tours when the coronavirus hit and lost restaurant accounts, to which it usually sells syrup on a regular basis.

“It’s been strange,” said Jacob Powsner, part of the family operations on the farm. “And I think it’s been strange for a lot of sugarmakers.”

Maple Open House Weekend, an opportunity for Vermont sugarmakers to give visitors a behind-the-scenes look at their operations, was canceled. Powsner estimated the family farm saw around 700 people last year for the event.

But things haven’t been all doom-and-gloom for the maple industry in Vermont. The Green Mountain State produced 2.2 million gallons of the sweet stuff in 2020 and maintained the top-producer slot in the nation.

Powsner said the Baird Farm tapped a little shy of 12,000 trees and estimated the operation churned out around 5,900 gallons of syrup. The farm’s online business remained intact. 

More: Vermont ranked largest producer of maple syrup, brings in over 2.2 million gallons

“So for a little bit, there was a weird food-internet surge,” he said. “If you had a direct-to-sale relationship with your customers, a lot of food businesses did fine in March and April. That has since kind of tapered off now.”

More: A day in the life of a Vermont maple sugarhouse

Powsner’s not sure when the tours can start back up. He considered the overall “mind-boggling” uncertainty worse than expected adversity. Still, he remained grateful for the support of others. 

“Folks were very intentional in supporting local businesses,” Powsner said. “And that just continues to be a great thing about making and selling food in Vermont.”

More: Personal pandemic: Short stories of Vermonters facing life in the coronavirus era

Contact Maleeha Syed at mzsyed@freepressmedia.com or 802-495-6595. Follow her on Twitter @MaleehaSyed89

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