On a thousand acres in Fairfield stand more than 68,000 maple trees tapped for sugaring season.
The trees are part of Branon Family Maple Orchards, located in the heart of sugaring country in Franklin County, not far from the Canadian border.
The Branons have been involved in maple production and agriculture for seven generations. Once a working dairy farm, the farm expanded its maple operation in the 1990s. Eventually, maple won out over dairy.
“I have four boys and none of them liked cows,” says Cecile Branon, with a smile and an easy laugh. She now runs the farm with her husband, Tom. The couple purchased the farm from Tom’s parents in 1984, and now operate it with three of their sons. “In our case, the farm needed updating, and the price of milk was fluctuating. My husband loves the woods, and sugaring is what he really wanted to do.”
A Focus on Maple Syrup
These days, it’s all maple all the time at the Branon farm, which produces about 33,000 gallons of kosher, organic maple syrup each year.
“People tend to think that sugaring is when sap runs until the season ends, but it’s a year-round job,” says Cecile, walking around the kitchen in the family’s 10,000-square-foot sugarhouse that opened in January 2014. “There are roads to maintain because of soil erosion, trees to be cut back, tubes to be rotated, repairs to be made, and so on.”
Unlike the traditional maple sugaring operation where draft horses and sap buckets are used, the Branons rely entirely on a tubing system for sap collection, the critical first step in the production of maple syrup. The family’s maple sugaring takes place in Fairfield and on 1,300 acres of wooded forest in nearby Bakersfield.
“We used to do sugaring with horses and buckets,” she says. “But as you get bigger, you need to evaluate your way of doing things and make sure you’re being cost effective.”
It’s hard to appreciate just how high-tech and sophisticated the Branon’s operation is until you visit. Inside the new sugarhouse are things like an evaporator, storage tanks, a vacuum system, reverse osmosis machine, and pressure filters. The Branons also use solar energy to power the sugarhouse. Along Route 36 near the farm’s entrance, 18 solar panels sit angled toward the sky.
The Branons believe their maple operation pays homage to the farm’s earlier days as a both a dairy farm and maple producer. Maple and dairy farming have long gone hand-in-hand as farmers traditionally relied on the opportunity that maple offered, allowing farmers to develop an income in April and May to pay for farm seeds and crops.
Visiting Branon Family Maple Orchards
What makes the Branon’s farm so nice to visit is the hospitality and warmth you feel the moment you walk through the front door. Photos of Tom and Cecile’s grandchildren adorn the walls, along with framed newspaper clippings and magazine features about the farm.
Jugs of syrup and maple syrup products line the shelves in the sugarhouse’s little store, as well as a table displaying fake maple products (we’re looking at you, Vermont Maid Syrup and Quaker Maple Instant Oatmeal).
Vermont Maple Open House Weekend
With the statewide Vermont Maple Open House Weekend coming up, Cecile expects 300 to 400 visitors to visit her sugarhouse for demonstrations and tastings. Will the Branon’s be boiling sap during Open House Weekend? Cecile feels optimistic.
“This is an old fashioned sugaring season, and things are looking good,” she says.
**IF YOU GO: Branon Family Maple Orchards is located at 539 Branon Road in Fairfield. The farm is participating in Maple Open House Weekend. If you can’t make it to Vermont Maple Open House Weekend, Branon Maple sells maple products online.