For a few weeks in winter or early spring, a talisman of sorts rises between the trees throughout rural Vermont. It is many places at once, yet the source, hidden amongst the hills, mountains and hollers, is not so disparate. On days when the wind is relatively still, these specter-like columns, comprised of smoke and vapor, can be seen for miles, beaconing those in the know.
They drive and trek, and as these seekers near their destinations, a faint yet familiar scent of something sweet intensifies the allure and further reinforces behavior learned from parents and grandparents, many of whom visited these same sites.
As is the tradition, these visitors are welcome. In from the cold and great outdoors, they enter the confines of cozy huts, known as sugarhouses, where the senses are greeted by steam and fragrance percolating off maple sap at the boiling point, and by the warmth of friends.
“It’s kind of like a big visiting contest,” says Hope Colburn, who along with her husband, Mark, runs Colburn’s Village View Maples, a sugaring operation near Glover, Vt. “During sugaring, people here drive around town to look for the steam and smoke from the sugaring, and they go from sugarhouse to sugarhouse … to be a part of this tradition, to witness it and visit. Of course, it dates back to … ” she pauses and laughs, “till who knows, but it’s definitely part of the heritage.”
From Vermont to Eastern Canada and across the prairie’s northern tier, sugaring—which typically lasts three to four weeks, beginning as early as January and ending as late as April—has signaled the end of winter. When daytime high temperatures reach the 40s (Fahrenheit) and nights dip back down into the 20s, a pressure is created in several varieties of maple trees, forcing the trees’ sugary sap to rise and flow out of breaks in the bark, whether natural or man-made.
Natives of these regions learned to collect the sap and boil it down long before Europeans arrived. They had their own rituals surrounding its collection and transformation into syrup, yet the addition of a warm sugarhouse has certainly added to that allure for the modern-era visitor. So have doughnuts.
“We go through a lot of them during sugaring season,” says Hope. Her mom makes the sinkers by the dozens, using maple syrup from the Colburns’ sugarhouse to feed those who visit at this critical time, when a year’s worth of nature’s and man’s work gets boiled down, literally, into sticky gold. Good friends help pass the time.
A sure-footed tractor helps the Colburns check tubing during sugaring.
Yesterday we celebrated, and helped sponsor, National Ag Day 2014, the 41st anniversary of celebrating agriculture’s role in the world. Every spring, producers, agricultural associations, corporations, universities, government agencies and others join together in recognition and appreciation of the agriculture industry.
We’d like to take this time to express our deepest gratitude to the many men and women across the globe who make agriculture possible: THANK YOU!
How did you celebrate National Ag Day yesterday? We’d love to hear from you — please share your stories in the comments below.
AGCO has proudly partnered with the Zambia 4-H project to help prepare Africa’s children to meet urgent global needs, including hunger, sustainable livelihoods and food security. By 2015, 4-H will equip 250,000 young people in Sub-Saharan Africa with the knowledge and skills needed for improved, sustainable livelihoods. Click here to learn more about the #AG4Good initiative on our Facebook page.
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Time has stopped, he’s in the zone and on autopilot.
Body is square to the jump, knees bent as he pops up and off at 25 mph. Flying high into the air, body twisting, contorting in different directions at once—gazing skyward, blind to the ground and seemingly out of control.
Air squeezes puffs of snow spray out as the board and rider land as one, straight and true. The jump is nailed.
Mitch Keet says he still revels in the feeling of when he has nailed a landing, or “stomped it,” even thousands of successful jumps later. “It feels so good. You just know that your hard work has paid off,” he says.
Growing up on the family poultry and grain farm amid the Canadian prairies, snow-covered mountains and big bodies of water are not exactly something in Mitch’s backyard. The nearest ski hill is more than 100 miles away, and the closest lake about the same distance. Old-fashioned rural ingenuity brought the altitude and wet stuff to the farm near Grandora, Saskatchewan.
During the winter, one of the family’s Massey Ferguson® tractors scoops and pushes snow together to build a small jump beside the poultry barns. An elongated pond of water was dug behind those same barns for summer wakeboarding. With his father, Derick, at the throttle, a homespun, carnival ride-sized winch pulls Mitch through his practice maneuvers for both wakeboarding and snowboarding. He can do more jumps in an hour than he can in a whole day on the natural slopes or water.
Mitch’s wakeboard achievements include being named Saskatchewan Rookie of the Year in 2011 and the Most Improved in 2012. He won gold at the provincials in 2013. Mitch has also achieved membership on Canada’s National Development Team.
Mitch gives much of the credit for his work ethic and the confidence to pull off his amazing areal stunts because he’s been so grounded through his experiences on the farm. The Keet family’s 600-acre farm, Double D Poultry, was started by Mitch’s grandfather David. Derick took over much of the day-to-day work of running the family farm the year Mitch was born.
Every eight weeks they ship 100,000 broiler chickens for processing to the nearby city of Saskatoon. Derick and David handle most of the work using their fleet of Massey Ferguson tractors. Mitch, however, can be counted on to handle a daily list of chores. “I go through the barns and pick up chickens, and when the birds go out, I’ll clean barns and spread straw and dump feed and spread manure, and harvest and combine for long days in the fall,” says Mitch.
While Mitch has his sights set on making the National Pro Team and competing at the world championships, he wants to do it his way. “The farm is the best; it’s open, it’s nice here all year round. And,” he continues, as if divulging the secret ingredient to his success, “the farm, it taught me skills and working, and that kind of stuff. I’ve got a good family, so I don’t want to go anywhere,” he says.
Mitch said being raised on the farm with chores and parents who take the time to teach him has made him both tougher and definitely more confident. “I’ll always remember that my dad taught me how to drive a tractor. He taught me how to drive the combine. My father’s confidence in me makes me very much more confident.”
And that attribute, says Mitch, is a big reason for his success, in boarding as it is in life.
A legacy of sustainability is evident from the talk around the table in their farm shop on a recent warm afternoon. Dave Ring, his son Brent, 38, and grandson Dylan, 8, laugh about a story in which the boy informed his grade-school teacher that he may have to come home soon to farm full time.
The reason? It seems his dad had accumulated some gray hair around his temples. Dylan took that as a sign that Brent would be retiring soon and his time to take over was at hand.
“Dylan is 8 going on 21,” laughs Dave, obviously proud of his grandson. Dave also feels confident the operation will be healthy when Dylan is indeed ready to take over.
The Rings farm more than 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat, milk 100-plus dairy cows and raise thousands of tom turkeys annually on a contract basis. They have always been proponents of good conservation. They seed cover crops in the fall, do minimal subsurface tillage, incorporate dairy manure and turkey litter in the soil, and buffer waterways.
“As for conservation, you have no choice in this part of the world,” says Dave. “We have rolling ground and you have to prepare the land to slow erosion. If we weren’t good stewards, there wouldn’t be anything left for my grandson.”
Dave is used to thinking about new generations. For 28 years, he was a high school business teacher, then vocational agriculture teacher and FFA leader. Now 68, he spent his younger days rising at 3 a.m. to milk cows and work the farm before heading off to his teaching job.
He thought the teaching would only be temporary—to help out the school district fill a sudden vacancy, then later to secure the agriculture program in danger of being cut for lack of an instructor. Turns out he was a natural. “I was starting to enjoy it,” Dave admits.
He is particularly proud of nearby Southridge High School’s FFA program, which had 15 members when he started teaching it and 160 when he retired in 2009.
Earlier this year, Dave Ring was recognized with the prestigious Master Farmer award from Indiana Prairie Farmer magazine. The nominees are considered for the honor based on the quality of their operation and community service. The awards were given this past spring at a banquet sponsored by the magazine and the Purdue Ag Alumni Association.
“The Rings have done a super job of being diversified,” says Kevin Lubbehusen of Blesch Bros. Equipment Co., Dave’s farm equipment dealer.
“You don’t often see someone of his age staying out front on the technology side,” says Kevin. “That ability to stay current, along with his years of experience and his reputation for being a straight shooter, make him someone people listen to.”