Sugaring time: Young men learn ancient art

ADDISON COUNTY — For most local maple syrup makers, each sugaring season is marked by something new. Prices fluctuate. Mother Nature is unpredictable. And now and then, there’s an advancement in the field of sugaring — like the “check valves” that many sugarmakers are using this year for the first time to increase production (see story, Page 18) — that changes the business of sugarmaking just enough to get everyone talking.
That’s all well and good. But for other local sugarmakers, weather and prices and technology aside, the ping, ping, ping of sap in metal buckets this time of year is just plain new.
Take 18-year-old Zach Sullivan and his band of friends. The six young men, ranging in age from 18 to 23, spent last summer building a sugar shack, and chopping the wood that will fuel their wood-burning evaporator. Since then they have been putting in long hours tapping around 1,500 trees on a neighbor’s land in Ferrisburgh.
Finally in the last week of February they began to taste the sweet fruit of their labors as they boiled their first batches of maple sap into delicious maple syrup.
Joining Sullivan in the new sugaring operation are his 21-year-old brother Josh; Brian Van de Weert, 18; and Eric, Aaron and Isaac Van Wyck, ages 20, 21 and 23 respectively.
They call their business Moonlit Mapleworks. In an industry marked by long family traditions and generations of experience, Sullivan and company are all new to the business. After experimenting with 200 taps last year, this season they’ve tapped 1,100 trees with lines, the new check valves, and a vacuum system, and have used the old-fashioned buckets on 400 more.
“I enjoy working in the woods,” Sullivan said. “It’s a blast. We have fun, and it’s not much of a chore when you’re having fun like that.”
Sullivan, a senior at the Champlain Valley Christian School and a student of the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center, admitted that he and his friends have been pulling a lot of long days and late nights.
Asked if he could fit in homework between tapping trees and boiling down sap, Sullivan laughed.
“Oh, of course,” he said. “We’ll try to, anyways.”
He added that his teachers at the career center, where Sullivan is a student in the forestry program, have been supportive, and have even been mentoring the new sugarmakers in their first season.
The young entrepreneurs are hoping to produce 500 gallons of syrup this year, which they’ll sale wholesale. The money they make will head back into the operation, and will probably go toward buying better and more efficient equipment.
“I hope to do it for the rest of my life, and pass it on to my children and grandchildren,” Sullivan said.
For now, though, Moonlit Mapleworks isn’t too worried about the future: The five young proprietors have the task at hand to focus on. With sap running last week, Sullivan and his friends made around 73 gallons of maple syrup.
“Boiling sap and drawing it off is the best part,” Sullivan said, “being able to taste the sweetness and knowing that you’re getting something from your labor.”
Reporter Kathryn Flagg is at [email protected].

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