Dakin Farm owner wins maple award
FERRISBURGH — Forget apples — in this case, you could say the sap doesn’t fall far from the maple tree.
Sam Cutting IV, president of Vermont foods retailer Dakin Farm, recently received the “2010 Maple Person of the Year Award” from the Vermont Maple Industry Council, a group formed to promote and protect the branding of Vermont maple syrup. He’s following in the footsteps of his father, Sam Cutting III, who won the same award 25 years ago.
The younger Cutting said he’s been involved in the maple industry for a shorter time than many — he became involved in statewide maple issues around the time when he took over the company from his father 10 years ago. Prior to that, Cutting’s focus in the Ferrisburgh-based family company was in the direct marketing division.
“My father was very involved in the maple industry,” he said. “I just felt that as he’s getting older, I should get involved in the industry, too.”
Although intensely involved in maple issues for a decade, his first introduction to the world of maple sugaring came long ago. He said he has many fond childhood memories of boiling down sap in the sugaring house.
“It’s one of the first things I did, at five years old,” he said. “I’ve done it all my life, but not in a big way.”
As a company, Dakin Farm is primarily involved on the processing and packaging end of the maple syrup business. Cutting said the company buys sap from taps in Monkton to boil down, but that adds up to only about five to six barrels a year. To meet consumer demand, the company buys an additional 400 barrels of Vermont maple syrup each year from other producers, packaging them under the Dakin Farm name and shipping them to devotees of Vermont syrup across the country.
The company’s store off Route 7 in Ferrisburgh also has an educational focus. During the busy summer and fall tourism seasons, the small sugar shack built onto the store is open to the public. Complete with a mural of a maple grove and a short film, visitors learn how maple syrup is made. And for two weekends in the spring, the boiler runs at full steam as a demonstration.
“We’re very involved in marketing maple, packing maple, promoting maple,” Cutting said.
Cutting serves as vice chairman of the Vermont Maple Industry Council, which has members from many of the larger maple companies in the state, as well as from the University of Vermont. Recently, the council threw its voice in with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture in its campaign to get McDonald’s restaurants to change the labeling on their new “Fruit and Maple Oatmeal” product, which contained no maple. The restaurant chain ultimately agreed to offer customers pure maple syrup with the menu item if they asked — though only in Vermont.
Right now, said Cutting, one of the major efforts going is to unite the three statewide boards involved in the maple industry. The Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Organization, which has widespread membership of sugarmakers across the state, and the Maple Foundation, which focuses on brand promotion of Vermont maple syrup, represent other voices of the maple syrup industry in the state, and the three organizations often work on very similar projects. But Cutting said that leaders in the three groups seem ready to merge the groups, in the hopes of giving the industry a stronger voice.
This, he said, is especially important in helping the state’s sugarmaking operations to compete with our neighbors to the north, since Quebec exports more maple products than Vermont does — especially in the international market.
A VERMONT VOICE
Cutting estimated that, during peak tourism seasons, 70 percent of visitors at the company’s stores in Ferrisburgh and South Burlington are from out-of-state. The mail-order catalog and sales through the company website are designed to make it easy for people who don’t live in the state to purchase a wide range of Vermont products.
Last year, Cutting was named to the statewide Agricultural Development Board, which is charged with offering recommendations and insight on agricultural issues to the Legislature.
Cutting’s place on the panel speaks to many of the marketing priorities set forth in the statewide Farm to Plate plan unveiled last month. The plan sets goals for strengthening the Vermont brand outside of the state, something that Dakin Farm has been focused on since Sam Cutting III and his wife, Joan, bought the property in 1960.
In recent years the younger Cutting has expanded the business, adding an order and packaging center and, recently, working with a local chef to create prepared foods that it sells alongside its meats, canned goods and cheeses.
But Dakin Farm’s signature product is still its maple syrup, and Cutting said he felt honored to be chosen from among the many involved in maple production and processing in the state.
“There’s a lot of people that work in maple,” he said. “They work really hard.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].