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Sheep, cows, goats, and water buffalo … Oh My!

Morning Chef Fan’s!! This assignment is more of a continuation of the discussion we had the week before, but it is still interesting to read about. Enjoy!

  1. What other examples in Vermont (or other places, if you choose) can you identify to show the shift from subsistence farming to fulfilling regional and national markets? Locate one example to illustrate your ideas.

When I think of Vermont one of the first things that came to mind is maple syrup. Vermont is known around the world for its maple syrup so much so that it accounts for 5.5% of the global production of maple syrup. It is therefore not a surprise that with this great a demand for Vermont maple syrup changes/shifts had to be made in farming practices to accommodate this demand. Taking a look back at how maple syrup production got started, and evolved will shed even more light on these changes.

Early settlers in the U.S. Northeast learned about sugar maples from Native Americans. Various legends exist to explain the initial discovery. One is that the chief of a tribe threw a tomahawk at a tree, sap ran out and his wife boiled venison in the liquid. Another version holds that Native Americans stumbled on sap running from a broken maple branch. However it was discovered, early maple syrup was made by boiling 40 gallons of sap over an open fire until you have one gallon of syrup. This was both time consuming and labor intensive, especially considering that the sap needed to be hauled to the fire in the first place. This process underwent little change over the first couple hundred years of recorded maple making. However, during the Civil War, the tin can was invented. Tin cans were made of sheet metal, and it didn’t take syrup makers long to realize that a large flat sheet metal pan was more efficient for boiling than a heavy rounded iron kettle which let much of the heat escape.

For the most part technology stayed at this point for almost another century, until the 1960’s, when maple farming was no longer a self-sufficient enterprise with large families as farm hands. Because syrup making was so labor intensive farmers could no longer afford to hire the larger crews it would take to gather all the buckets and haul the sap to the evaporator house. By the 1970’s, syrup makers responded with another surge of technological breakthroughs. Tubing systems, which had been experimented with since the early part of the century, were perfected and the sap came directly from the tree to the evaporator house. Vacuum pumps were added to the tubing systems. Pre-heaters were developed to “recycle” heat lost in the steam. Reverse-osmosis filters were developed to take a portion of water out of the sap before it was boiled. All of these breakthroughs in technology have allowed maple farmers to keep their cost lower, while increasing their yield, which means that consumers all over the world can get great quality maple syrup at a reasonable price.

How does Vermont fit into all of this? “Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the United States, producing 40 percent of the total US crop in 2011. Every county in Vermont produces some maple syrup and it is estimated that there are around 2,000 maple producers in the state. In 2011, those producers made an estimated 1,140,000 gallons of maple syrup.”(vermontmaple.com) With these facts and figures I think it is safe to say that Vermont has turned maple syrup farming from subsistence farming to fulfilling regional and national markets.

  1. How did one of the factors (you may research and write about more than one) that influence and shape natural systems, agriculture, food, and cuisine impact Vermont over the past century? Locate simple examples to illustrate your opinion.
    • Trade and technology- More than any of the others I feel that Trade and Technology have had the biggest impact on Vermont in the last century. Firstly trade drives the creation of towns and cities, because early towns and cities sprang up around trade hubs and ports. No better example of this can be seen then the examples that are given in the paper An Era of Great Change: 1820-1850. The paper talks about how William Jarvis basically created the town of Weathersfield, Vermont. It also says that because of his introduction of the Merino Sheep he could also be credited with consolidation of small family farms to bigger farms required to keep up with the demand of wool production. William Jarvis single handedly changed the natural systems of Vermont and the town of Weathersfield, and he did it with trade. As trade and demand for products climbs so too does the technology that goes into producing these items. Sometimes this technological boom propels the market forward to greater profits but in some cases it may also cripple a rival market. This is what happened with the wool market when dairy farming took over the stage. Trade once again played a factor in the change of markets because it was hard for Vermont to compete with other states that could raise sheep for about 1/4th the cost of a Vermont farmer. In 1865 just 15 years after the rise of the dairy industry the vacuum milking machine was invented which would show once again how technology changed an industry. The vacuum milking machine made it faster and much less labor intensive for the farmers, and arguably the best part is that the cows liked it and would even line up to be milked. This increases in speed translated to a surplus of milk which would lead to the creation of Cabot. Cabot started out as a coop for local farmers and turned the surplus of milk into first butter and then the cheese that we have come to know today. Cabot butter and cheese is traded all over the U.S. and is even starting to make its way to other parts of the world, which has helped Vermont’s economy for many years. These are just a few examples of how trade and evolutions in technology have influenced and changed Vermont’s natural systems for both the better and worse.


  1. Considering Vermont today, identify one farming practice, commodity product, or artisan food that reflects the changes in agriculture.

Vermonters are really trying to live up to the motto on their license plate of being The Green Mountain State. They have taken this idea in many different directions from being a leader in the farm to table and sustainable food movements to recycling and composting. Composting has become such a big part of Vermont and its efforts of going green that it has passed legislation that will make composting mandatory. Last May, the state Legislature passed Act 148, a phased-in ban to keep recyclable and organic materials out of the state’s landfills. The law will call for everyone to separate organic waste from their trash by 2020.

Karl Hammer of Vermont Compost Company sees what he is doing as soil and earth stewardship. On the company website he even states: “All of our products are designed to provide long-term benefit to the soil life of the farm where they go back into the ground. We composters stand as gatekeepers to the soils which we steward. The grower entrusts the composter with important responsibility for the long-term health of the soil community.” This statement reflects many Vermonters view on giving back to the planet as well as the community; and with both state legislation and community members like Karl Composting is changing not only the ideas behind commercial fertilizers but also agricultural ideas.

Literature Review:

            With the decision to use maple syrup as my example in the first question I needed to know about the history and the changed that maple farming went through. To do this I turned to two different web pages. The first was a Time magazine article called “A Brief History of Maple Syrup” and the second was from Canadian Maple Syrup History. Both articles talked about the history of maple farming but the time article was particularly good at providing examples of technological changes. In addition to both of these I used vermontmaple.com to look up the most recent facts and figures about the annual maple production in the state.

The second question gave us the choice to pick between one of the five areas that influence natural systems. After reading the articles that went along with this section, I feel that trade and technology have had the biggest impact on Vermont in the past 100 years. All of the articles and papers that we read for class talked about how as the wool trade declined the dairy industry stepped up to take its place. The other thing that they almost all talked about was the technology that made these two industries rise and fall.

Question 3 gave us a lot of different avenues to pick from and with my choice of composting I was able to point out a practice that is changing not only Vermont but also the world. I have a great deal of respect for Vermont and its efforts at composting, and because I was able to visit and tour Vermont Compost Company with Karl I have seen firsthand just how much care goes into creating compost. The article I found in the Rutland herald was very surprising as I had not heard anything about this legislation and I was attending NECI the same time it was passed.



Works Cited:

“Canadian Maple Syrup – Maple Syrup History.” Canadian Maple Syrup – Maple Syrup History. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

“An Era of Great Change: 1820-1850.” Lecture. NECI Moodle. Web. 24 Jan. 2013.

“Feed the Soil.” Vermont Compost Company. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

“The History of the World’s Best Cheddar.” Cabot Cheese / About Us / History. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

“Maple Facts and Figures.” Maple Fact and Figures. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

Pickert, Kate. “A Brief History of Maple Syrup.” Editorial. Time 16 Apr. 2009: n. pag. Time.com. Time. Web. 24 Jan. 2013.

“Southdown Sheep.” At Billings Farm. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

“Vermont Dairy.” The History of Dairy Farming in Vermont. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

Zagarins, Marija. “Composting Comes of Age in Vermont.” Rutland Herald. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.



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