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David Marvin, Maple Syrup Farmer

Butternut Mountain Farm, Vermont


What's Bugging Our Maple Syrup?

Learn why maple sugar farmers are worried about the future of maple trees.

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Paul Bunyan the lumberjack made a living out of harvesting trees. But healthy forests provide a living for many, many other people, like Vermont resident David Marvin.

nature.org:

What do you do?

David Marvin:

I am David Marvin, with the Vermont Maple Sugar Company. We’ve been in the maple syrup business for 40 years, my parents purchased the first parcel here around 60 years ago. In addition to production from our own farm, Butternut Mountain, we buy syrup from several hundred other farms, and we market syrup all around the world. I think we are different than most companies and maple producers because maple is full time for us. We see it from the tree, to the syrup barrel, through processing, quality control, packaging, sales and marketing, to distribution and retail.

We are also connected to maple through its geographic range and on to global markets. We know maple from soil to roots, trunk and twigs, from history to modern technology, from sap chemistry to flavor analysis, from bulk value to value-added, maple is what we know and invest in for ourselves and those with whom we share the title of sugarmaker.

nature.org:

How does a healthy forest help you earn a living?

David Marvin:

I started sugaring in my backyard at home when I was eleven, and I’ve been full time making a living from sugaring since the 70’s. I got a degree in Forestry and worked for the USFS in their maple research program for two years before starting this business full time, and I’ve been making a living from maple and forestry ever since.

These woods are very dynamic, and a healthy forest is essential to our business. We thin numerous times to produce healthy crowns and vigorous stems that will produce maple sap. We’ll also leave other species, ash, birch, cherry, spruce, pine, whatever has timber potential, or we’ll leave trees for aesthetics - and we leave butternut which is the farms namesake.

When I first started 40 years ago having a maple monoculture was not such a bad thing, now I think we need to encourage diversity in the stand, and it is getting harder and harder to do that. Chestnut was lost before my time, we basically lost most of the butternut, we are losing the beech, and close by but not yet here we are losing the ash. Without us doing anything on purpose we are losing diversity. Encouraging diversity as I see it is the role of the forester. I’m like a family doctor, first do no harm.

One of the great luxuries of being in the maple business is that we need to visit each of our trees, individually multiple times during the year. I’ve got to know these trees personally over the decades. As a forester I don’t get to go into the same stand nearly as often.

nature.org:

What do you hope for the future of your forest?

David Marvin:

As a forester and landowner and as a sugar maker I worry about any threat.

Recently I am more concerned about the dramatic events we’ve been seeing, two years in a row of forest tent caterpillar outbreaks, last year Tropical Storm Irene, ten years ago Hurricane Floyd, and two years before that the ice storm. These dramatic events sometimes make me go to the woods with a heavy heart. Asian Longhorn beetle is another concern, it prefers maple to any other species, it is going to be devastating to anyone and any woods.

While these threats very much frighten me we have the potential to contain them if the public is aware. We can all help in small ways, whether it is conserving energy, not moving firewood even if it just a few miles, and planting responsibly in our gardens. Individually it is about awareness to make sure people understand their actions do make a difference for good or ill. We all have to take our own responsibility.


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