News from Vermont # 307 Breakfast of Charlatans

February 20th, 2014

Hello again Maple People,

Like a seedling geranium, Vermont's 82nd annual Farm Show was recently transplanted from Barre to a "bigger pot", so to speak, at Essex Junction. After 80 Barre shows and the growth of Vermont farming in general, that move became necessary. I went over there two days ago for my annual investigative trek through aisles full of monster tractors, monster maple evaporators, and everything else connected to fitting Vermont farms into a new, complex economy. In fact, if some of the equipment I saw had been vegetative, we might be suspecting growth hormones!

The good news, however, is that when it comes to change of economy, societal trends, ornery pests or climate problems, Vermont farmers and farm suppliers always figure it out...by gory, y'can't pay the bills by milking forty cows or gatherin' sap from buckets anymore. And just "suck it up" you purists...change happens!

At noon, I went up to the annual meeting of the Vermont Maple Sugarmakers Association which was held in a large conference room on the second floor. As I walked in, the round tables were filling with folks of different persuasions...some sugarmakers were still dressed in work garb as though they had just come in from the woods and intended to go right back. Others were spiffed up a bit more for a full day at the farm show and in the middle of the room was a table occupied by folks in business suits. I recognized them as representatives of our congressional delegation, good folks working in behalf of Vermont maple sugarmakers.

At the front of the room, a rotating display of pictures appeared on a screen. In a world of maple sugarmakers, the display was equal to that "ten most wanted" poster you see at the federal building...it showed pictures of several nationally distributed products that are misusing the word "maple". Included was a box of Quaker "Maple and Brown Sugar" Instant Oatmeal with the word "maple" bold and brash right on the front of the box. The list of ingredients on the back, though, included things like "caramel color, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride, and thiamin mononitrate"...yummy...love that thiamin mononitrate...but "maple" was woefully AWOL! And If you think that smiling old Quaker we all grew up with simply made a mistake, well, I have a maple sugaring operation down toward Tucson to sell you! They intend to mislead folks with the word "maple"; it's legal and it works...my wife Betsy even fell for it because I'm using a model box of Maple Quaker Oats as I write which I got right out of our pantry!

After our meal, the Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross (who has regulatory authority over Vermont sugarmakers) addressed the subject of misusing the maple name. He said he was powerless over policing it because it "went beyond Vermont's boundaries". It was then that I had a "voila" moment, albeit, as I was to find out, very naive. I stood up and addressed Mr. Ross, "Mr. Secretary, it seems you're looking for a federal outfit that can take care of this nationwide problem and I have the solution.". I went on to say that the FDA had entered his territory two years ago to inspect my sugarhouse. "Since they 'want in' on inspecting Vermont sugarhouses, why not simply get them to clean up this misuse of the word 'maple'".

Chuck Ross quickly deferred my question to the congressional folks in the middle of the room. I was already patting myself on the back, thinking the Washington guys would get right on it. Their response, however, seemed slow and measured, like pouring Grade B syrup on a cold day. They finally spoke up using words like "established protocol", "emerging health threats", and "organizational constraints", the same way sugarmakers might use words like "ball valves" and "health spouts". They "batted it" back and forth for a while but at the end I finally understood their message: "It ain't going to happen so just forget about it."

"Having the real thing!"

I thoroughly enjoyed my day at the Farm Show and, yes, came away with some great ideas about changes on our own farm. My respect for farmers is huge, just like today's equipment; they know how to "figure it out"...if it's broke, they fix it. If it's outdated, they rebuild it. If it's misleading, they correct it. And for my "congressional" friends, I harbor no grudge. They're hard workers and mean well but it seems their hands are often tied by a "lesser" system than farming. Oh, and as for your breakfast oatmeal, don't bother to get the "maple" kind...there ain't no maple in it.

Purely,

Burr

PS:
Winter's sure hangin' right in this year and we're all getting sick of it. Here in Vermont, we do have something to look forward to...sugarin'. When sugarin' hits, we forget all about winter's misery because the snow is melting and nature has a "sweet glow" about it. Even if you don't have sugarin' where you live, I have an idea about something you can look forward to: a package from www.morsefarm.com . Anything "pure" maple is so good and good for you...after all, how could 3000 trees be wrong? Let us know how we can help and remember...we have recently made our shipping charges lower.