One day earlier this year, Lyndon Institute senior Tucker Morehouse looked out the window as he was leaving class. Instead of seeing a landscape covered in a late winter blanket of snow, the long-time sugar maker saw trees. Specifically, he saw the maple trees that surround Gateway Cottage, the residence of the school's headmaster.
Last year Tucker and his friend and fellow senior, Andrew Riendeau dabbled in sugaring. Tucker grew up sugaring with his uncle, while Andrew learned from his grandfather. To graduate from last year's operation, which included attempts at boiling sap in a turkey roaster, the pair needed a plan and some new equipment.
Together they drafted a letter to Headmaster Rick Hilton asking to tap the 100 or so trees to the south of Gateway on a hillside wedged between the Fenton Chester Arena and the north bound lane of I-91. The letter went on to say that they had built their own arch (firebox) in the school's welding class and they would like to expand their operation and "give agricultural meaning to Lyndon Institute." They also would be willing to share their knowledge with anyone thinking of getting into the business. With Hilton's blessing they were on their way.
The two had already designed their own arch after seeing the $4-5,000 price tag on a new one. Using an old propane tank donated by Andrew's grandfather, Tucker and his classmates Todd Laplant and Brian Bedor worked on the arch in their welding class while Andrew prepared the drops and nearly 300 feet of line they would need to hang to collect the sap. They lengthened the arch with steel donated from NSA and built the pans from stainless steel that Tucker purchased from NSA. At two-feet by five-feet and 300 pounds, the arch soon outgrew the trailer that the pair had intended to use for transport even before the fire brick had been added. A new trailer was found and a tractor to make sure they could unload it when they decided where they would be boiling.
A sunny afternoon in February found the pair scrambling up the steep slopes as they tapped the trees and ran their lines. They chewed on the lines to loosen them enough to attach to the T's and spouts while keeping an eye out for the squirrels scurrying about. Squirrels love to chew on sap lines. Buckets will hang from hooks on the lower trees they can reach from level ground.
For Hilton the pair is more than just a couple kids running around in his yard. "I'm delighted that traditional Vermont folkways are being carried into the future by the next generation," he said. "Andrew and Tucker are wonderful ambassadors for traditional sugaring methods. Hearing them talk about the future they see in maple products makes me believe that they will succeed in this venture -- or in anything else they attempt. I am proud to call them Lyndon Institute students and happy to help them in this effort. It goes well with our revival of LI agriculture in the Buschmann House greenhouse-and-gardens project. It's been a few years since we made syrup on campus. I hope that soon syrup made on campus from our own maple trees will be served in our cafeteria, as well as greens grown in our own gardens and greenhouse," he added.
In their proposal, the two stated one of their goals was to "keep Vermont maple sugaring alive and keep all business local, to help our community." Even with their goal of 20 gallons of syrup produced, the young entrepreneurs will not be lacking for customers. First in line will be their "foreman," Hilton, who plans "to make some of their syrup available for purchase by LI alumni and friends."