BENNINGTON COUNTY -- It's that time of year again: time to produce a product that has become synonymous with the state of Vermont throughout the nation.
The Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association will hold an Open House Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, March 22 and 23, and several producers in Bennington County, both large and small, will join in.
Merck Forest and Farmland Center in Rupert -- which has taken part in Open House Weekend for almost a decade -- produces somewhere between 500 and 800 gallons of maple syrup in a season, depending on the year, according to Communications Director Melissa Carll.
Merck has a slew of activities planned this weekend, including a pancake breakfast, which typically draws a crowd of somewhere between 600 and 800 people throughout the weekend, Carll said.
Merck Forest also has activities planned for children.
"We're going to have story time and it's going to be like maple story time," Carll said. "So, everything from sort of traditional Native Americans or stories about sugaring all the way through things in books."
They hope to have several new-born lambs in the farm's barn, she said, and to engage in several different activities and learn about lambing. A scavenger hunt and bonfire will round out the festivities.
And the weekend would not be complete without sugar maple tapping demonstrations, which will be held at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. both days.
"We [will] talk a little bit about the history of sugaring and how we sugar on the farm and then demonstrate tapping trees," Carll said.
Activities will take place both days between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and Carll said that depending on the amount of snow on the farm they will have wagon rides or sleigh rides as well.
Dutton's Farm Stand in Manchester -- which has been making maple syrup for 20 years -- has also joined in Open House Weekend ever since it began. When the weekend arrives this year, co-owner of Dutton's Farm Stand Wendy Dutton said that they will be giving tours of the sugarhouse and explaining the process of making maple syrup. The people who visit get a look at Dutton's operation, not only looking at the sugarhouse and the sugar lot, but taking a walk in the woods where they have their taps as well.
In addition to the tours, Dutton said that they have live music on Saturday in the farm stand and will provide samples of various Vermont products for the public to taste.
Unlike some other sugarhouses that may take part in the open house for a day or two, Dutton said that they are open every day.
"We have open house every day. We're [open] Friday, Saturday, Sunday -- I mean, that's when the state does it," Dutton said. "But like I said we're open every day. Whenever there's steam coming out of the sugarhouse people are welcome to come in."
While Dutton said it was difficult to tell how many people the sugarhouse sees over the course of a weekend, she estimated at least 500 per day.
Scott McEnaney -- a small producer -- began sugaring three years ago. It was a fun activity to do with the family, he said.
Scott and his wife Erin are the co-owners of The Wing Farm in Bennington and have participated in Open House Weekend for the past two years.
Unlike some of the other producers within the county -- including Dutton's and Merck Forest, who use reverse osmosis and other enhanced technology in the process to enhance efficiency -- the McEnaneys make their syrup the traditional way.
"We do not have reverse osmosis and it's a wood-fired arch," McEnaney said. "I have made a pre-heater and a hood, but [those are] the only things that I have to help increase efficiency."
Last year, McEnaney estimated that about 75 people came to The Wing Farm to see the operation and learn how to make maple syrup.
Since Open House Weekend began, many of the producers involved have enjoyed it or found it to be beneficial. For Merck Forest, Carll said the weekend draws people onto their farm and gets them to experience the landscape really working. For Dutton, it's getting to see her customers and teach new people -- even those who have lived in the area all their lives -- about the process of sugar making.
For McEnaney, though, the significance of the weekend seems to run a little bit deeper.
"I think it celebrates Vermont heritage in a really neat way, and in an inviting way, bringing new people into something that's really special in the state," he said. "The beautiful thing about maple syrup is nothing's added. Nothing's taken away except water. It's something that people all over the country enjoy."
Merck Forest & Farmland Center
Maple Celebration and Pancake Breakfast: Panckakes, eggs, pork sausage, coffee, juice and Merck maple syrup. Tree tapping demonstration, sap-house tours, wagon rides and possibly newborn lambs.
Where: 3270 Route 315, Rupert
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Admission: $10 for adults and $5 for children 4 and older. Children under 4 get in free.
Information: (802) 394-7836, merckforest.org
Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association Maple Open House Weekend -- sugar shacks invite everyone to see how maple syrup is made and often to taste the results. Maple syrup and maple products for sale at most sites.
Events include ...
Ball Brook Sugar House
David Dence, 196 Sweet Road, Pownal, Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Watch David Dence's family and friends make maple syrup and maple cream. Free maple popcorn and coloring books.
Dutton Berry Farm
Paul and Wendy Dutton, 2083 Depot St., Manchester. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tours of the sugarhouse, music on Saturday. (802) 365-4168
Jim and Josie's Maple Syrup
Jim and Josie Ameden, 1055 Route 11, Londonderry, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Family sugaring for generations, wood-fired evaporator and samples. (802) 824-3245
Mance Family Tree Farm
David Mance, 217 Holliday Dr., Shaftsbury, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Wood-fired evaporator, samples and syrup. Sunday only, sugar on snow. (802) 447-7300
Rick Kobik, 207 Maple Hill Road, Shaftsbury. Wood-fired evaporator, free saphouse tours and maple goodies. (802) 375-2251
Mountain Valley Maple Farm
Michael Lourie, 1498 Route 153, West Rupert, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Free coffee, doughnuts and waffle sticks, free maple samples and tours. (802) 394-2928
XR Maple Farm
Rick Hawley, 180 Salter Hill Road, Arlington, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Detailed tours and hot syrup samples. (802) 375-2805
Wing Farm Maple Syrup
McEnaney family , 599 Townline Road West, Shaftsbury
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, tubing and buckets with wood-fired evaporator. (802) 345-3966
Information: Full list of farms and events at vermontmaple.org