Open House educates visitors about Vermont’s maple

Keely Lyons, Staff Writer

Freshly fallen snow blanketed the fields of Shelburne Farms as students, community members and children walked through the lively sugarbush.

Shelburne Farms hosted their annual Maple Open House March 23 to 24 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Visitors could tap a maple tree, enjoy freshly made sugar on snow and sample Shelburne Farms maple syrup.

The event taught attendees about maple syrup production and allowed them to explore Shelburne Farm’s smaller sugarhouse and sugarbush.

A sugarbush refers to a tree canopy consisting mainly of sugar maple trees.

“It was great to get off campus and have a real Vermont experience,” sophomore Barbara Banchik said. “Shelburne Farms is special because of how it makes different kinds of experiences educational and accessible.”

Shelburne Farms included programming centered around Abenaki sugaring traditions March 24.

Chief Don Stevens and other members of the Abenaki community shared their stories, according to their website.

Shelburne Farms produces maple syrup commercially.

But, events like the Maple Open House are for educational purposes and support Shelburne Farm’s educational mission, said postgraduate education fellow Sonia Howlertt.

“Almost everything we do here at Shelburne Farms is for an educational purpose,” Howlertt said. “This whole sugarbush here is for people to come and engage with. Because of that, it’s not as much about production and creation.”

Throughout the day, Howlertt led families on an exploration of maple tapping, and each participant was able to spin traditional hand drills and help tap a sugar maple tree.

Throughout her fellowship at Shelburne Farms, Howlertt has led school and weekend programs, such as the Maple Open House.

Aside from learning how to tap a maple tree, Howlertt taught participants how to identify sugar maples and other trees.

“I’ve been loving eating the sugar on snow, and I always love seeing kids coming out and getting to engage with us and turn the drill and tap the trees,” Howlertt said.

As part of encouraging engagement in the sugarbush, visitors could collect “tree cookies” scattered around the sugarbush and redeem the small wooden discs for maple-related prizes.

Visitors got to experience a wide variety of maple sugaring activities, like eating sugar on snow and maple candies.

The Open House not only attracted Vermonters, but people from out of state, as well.

New York University student Cat McDonnell, who was visiting Vermont for the weekend with friends, came to learn about aspects of Vermont she had not been previously exposed to.

“I didn’t know much about Vermont except for the stereotypical things, like maple syrup and lots and lots of snow,” McDonnell said. “So I thought it was creative and kind of funny when they just dumped a pot of syrup on snow.”

In addition to maple sugaring activities, Shelburne Farms partnered with Outreach for Earth Stewardship to provide live bird presentations with species native to Vermont, including a rescued barred owl and a red tail hawk.

The handler of the birds brought the hawk outside for viewers.

“When we saw the hawk outside, I thought it was special because it was wonderful to see a bird like that against the sky with the snow in the background,” Banchik said. “I really liked learning about owls that are so common in Vermont, but we barely get to see them.”

Overall, Shelburne Farm’s Maple Open House was a day of education, experience and engagement for visitors.