The Story Behind the Syrup
Updated: Mar 22, 2022
Maple Farmers empowers Vermont’s independent maple syrup makers by providing an effective commercial platform for their small-batch craft maple syrup.
STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY MAPLE FARMERS
On a picturesque hillside in Northern Windsor County, an independent maple syrup farmer named Cory Krieg is busy preparing for the upcoming sugaring season. Krieg is the founder of Maple Farmers, a recently-formed collective of six family farms in Central Vermont that sell high-quality craft maple syrup under a common label. After walking through the doorway of the sugar house that he built with his bare hands, he pauses to reflect as he leans on a locally-sourced hemlock wood wall. “It’s been a wonderful experience bringing all of this together,” says Krieg. “People have really connected with our products and the farmers that make them, and I’ve been able to build a business model that I’m very proud of.”
Originally born in Northwestern Pennsylvania, Krieg moved to Vermont in 1980, when he was a young boy. Soon after, he began making small-batch maple syrup using sap from the trees that surrounded his parents’ house. “My early experiences with maple sugaring really made me appreciate all of the hard work that goes into the process,” says Krieg. “I fell in love with the Vermont tradition of small-batch maple syrup, and it’s been a big part of my life ever since.”
After graduating from high school, Krieg earned a degree in engineering from Norwich University. He went on to work as an electrical engineer for several highly-profitable multinational companies, and eventually landed at FUJIFILM Dimatix in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Over the course of his engineering career, Krieg’s passion for maple sugaring continued to grow.
After Krieg was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019, he decided that it was finally time to build a fully-operational sugar house at his property in Bethel. “It had always been a longtime dream of mine to build a sugar house and expand my maple syrup production, but I kept putting it off and saying I would do it further down the line. I built the sugar house over an eight-month period during the course of my cancer treatment. I had someone come to pour the foundation, and I had some help with the roof, but I built everything else myself. It helped me get through my treatment, and it also served as the catalyst for the formation of the Maple Farmers collective.”
Once the sugar house was built, Krieg purchased a wood-fired evaporator, a filter press, and a canning unit. During the first year that Krieg made his syrup in the sugar house, he sold it to his family and friends. He initially bottled the syrup in glass wine bottles, but he discovered that it was unsustainably expensive to ship it that way. Krieg knew that in order to effectively enter the maple syrup market, he had to create an online store and figure out how to make his brand more visible through search engine optimization. “I had no idea where to start,” says Krieg, “so I took some classes that were offered by the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association.”
At the classes, Krieg learned about the way that Vermont’s maple syrup industry was structured. He then came to the realization that many small-scale maple sugaring operations were being put out of business due to the sheer demand and volume of the bulk market. “The bulk market is not ideal for smaller maple farmers,” notes Krieg. “You need to have a sizable operation in order to establish profitable relationships with maple syrup packing companies. There are many massive farms that have already grown to occupy that market niche, so it’s hard to get your foot in the door and get a fair price for your syrup.”
Cory Krieg making syrup.
Having already established connections with several local maple farmers, Krieg began to reach out to additional farmers in Windsor County and Orange County. After a series of open and honest conversations, Krieg learned that they shared a common sentiment of frustration in regards to the market dynamics of the maple syrup industry. He then came to the conclusion that the best way to help small-scale maple farmers market and sell their products was to form a unified business collective. By joining forces and selling their syrup through a streamlined and efficient online platform, he and the other farmers would be able to directly reach consumers without having to negotiate with outside packing operations. “It was a real ‘lightbulb’ moment,” says Krieg. “I understood that if we packed and shipped the syrup ourselves, we could provide our customers with small-batch syrup at a fair price without sacrificing any of the quality. We would also be able to fairly compensate farmers for their hard work and bring their products to a wider audience.”
Maple Farmers was officially incorporated in November 2020. The collective currently consists of six central Vermont farms: Gilead Brook Farm, Hermit Woods Maple, The Howard Family Farm, Maple Flower Farm, Sunnybrook Farm, and White Rock Farm. Each farm uses traditional methods to make their syrup, and the farmers put a great deal of care and effort into every stage of the production process.
At Maple Flower Farm, the sugaring season begins at the beginning of the spring thaw every year in early March. At the onset of the sugaring season, Krieg ventures down to his neighbor’s forest with a mobile “collection tank” attached to the back of a tractor. Using a 5/16th-inch drill bit, he drills a small hole in the maple trees. Krieg then puts taps in the holes and affixes tubes to them which lead the sap into the collection tank. “I don’t ever use vacuum pumps to collect the sap,” says Krieg. “I only put one tap per tree, because I want to ensure that the trees remain alive and healthy.”
After the sap is collected, Krieg brings the collection tank back to his property. He then runs a gravity-fed tube from the collection tank down to a “feeder tank” located in the top loft of his sugar house. From there, the sap in the feeder tank is fed into his evaporator, which is heated by wood that Krieg cuts and splits himself on his own property. “Ideally, it’s best to use fresh sap that’s harvested the same day,” notes Krieg.
When the sap is fed into the evaporator, it goes through an initial “pre-heating” stage. The top of the evaporator is equipped with pipes and flues that heat the entry chamber, producing large amounts of steam that boils the sap. After the sap is pre-heated, it flows down into another section of the evaporator, where a series of strategically-placed “float valves” control the flow of the sap. Krieg elaborates: “The float valves allow me to set the level of sap that flows through different areas of the evaporator to make sure that it boils down at the correct rate. There are several valves throughout the evaporator that go up and down as the sap makes its way through.”
As the sap proceeds through the machine, it becomes increasingly concentrated as it boils down and transforms into maple syrup. In order to properly measure the density of the syrup, Krieg uses a small specialized glass contraption known as a hydrometer. “Vermont’s maple syrup must have a sugar content of 66.9%, which is 0.9% higher than syrup made in other states and in Canada,” says Krieg. “The hydrometer measures the sugar content. When the hydrometer floats down to the correct level in the syrup, I know that it’s ready to move on to the next stage.”
Once the syrup reaches the correct density, it passes over a collection pan into a “draw-off-tank,” which is pumped into a nearby filter press. The filter press contains several pressurized chambers, which are lined with filter paper. Krieg then adds a natural compound known as diatomaceous earth to the syrup, which aids in the filtration process. “The first time I saw someone put diatomaceous earth powder in their syrup, I thought that they were ruining it! I later learned that it acted as a granular filtering agent. The diatomaceous earth is too large to make it through the filter paper, so it catches any remaining impurities in the syrup.”
After several filtration cycles, the syrup is ready to be bottled, packaged and shipped in quart and half-pint sized glass bottles. Krieg says that he uses glass bottles because plastic bottles allow oxygen to seep through. Every month that syrup is left in a plastic container, the oxygen turns its color even darker, changing the grade of the syrup.
True to Maple Farmers’ overarching philosophy of local farmer empowerment, each glass bottle of Maple Farmers syrup bears the imprint of the specific farm that made it, as well as a charming logo graphic that was designed by Krieg’s son. “We want our customers to be able to develop deep relationships with the farmers who make their syrup,” says Krieg. “Every farm in the Maple Farmers family stands behind their product, and each batch possesses its own unique flavor and color grade.”
Krieg explains that all Maple Farmers syrup is graded into four distinct color grades: Golden & Delicate, Amber & Rich, Dark & Robust, and Very Dark & Strong. According to Krieg, all of the sugar in the sap starts out as sucrose early on in the sugaring season. As the season progresses, natural bacteria present in the sap break the sucrose down into glucose, which tends to caramelize, or “brown” more easily than the sucrose. Krieg says that this natural phenomenon is what creates the darker colors later on in the season. He adds that each grade possesses its own special characteristics and flavor profile. “The Golden & Delicate syrup has a light flavor. It’s absolutely delicious on vanilla ice cream and waffles. The Amber & Rich syrup and Dark & Robust syrup are wonderful mid-range syrups that perfectly complement pancakes. They’re also great for maple lattés and homemade flavored beverages. If you want to make a fantastic barbecue sauce, look no further than the Very Dark & Strong syrup. It’s got some real punch to it, so it’s a phenomenal sauce base.”
All of the farmers in the Maple Farmers collective make their syrup without the use of “reverse osmosis,” an artificial process by which sap is filtered at high pressure to separate the water from the sugar without natural heat. “All large-scale syrup makers use reverse osmosis techniques to
maximize efficiency,” notes Krieg. “Although it does enable them to process larger amounts of syrup at a faster rate, I believe that a lot of its flavor is lost in the process. If the syrup doesn’t boil and caramelize, it loses its character.”
As Krieg looks toward the future, he is grateful to be able to work with his fellow Central Vermont farmers to promote their products and tell their stories. “When our customers purchase Maple Farmers products, they don’t just get to enjoy a higher-quality syrup made with traditional methods – they also play an active part in supporting Vermont’s independent farmers. I pay the farmers I work with double the rate that they would earn selling their syrup to the bulk market packers, so it’s a truly symbiotic relationship. I go out of my way to sell their syrup before I sell my own, because I started this business to give them a positive platform. Whenever I share the stories of the family farms that I work with on social media, they get more attention than many of the product photos that I post. It shows that people love the story behind our syrup just as much as the syrup itself.”
A Blossoming Business
Liz Krieg creates beautiful floral arrangements, teaches informative workshops, and hosts festive gatherings at Maple Flower Farm
Up the hill from Cory Krieg’s sugar house, vibrant flower gardens and greenhouses stand in the middle of a verdant field. They serve as the business center of Liz Krieg’s flourishing flower farm and floral arrangement operation. Liz (Cory’s wife) is a degreed horticulturist and has grown fresh-cut flowers in Vermont since 1989. She is the founding president of the Vermont Cut Flower Council; has taught as an adjunct professor at the New England Wildflower Society; and lent her horticultural services to local businesses, private homeowners, floral designers, and flower shops in large cities and small towns.
Liz grows professional-grade cut flowers, which include tunnel-grown David Austin Roses, Ranunculus, Anemone, Lisianthus and many other bodacious stems. She works closely with her clients to create gorgeous custom flower arrangements that are perfect for any occasion. Her popular annual “Cut Flower Garden in a Box” program is a wonderful option for customers who are seeking to enhance the beauty of their own home-cut flower gardens. She also accepts a few lucky brides each year; her bridal arrangements are magnificent.
For those who wish to expand their horticultural skillset, Liz hosts fun and accessible classes for fledgling florists at her Vermont Flower Workshops. The workshops offer visiting guests the opportunity to stroll unencumbered through her airy and bucolic flower gardens while basking in the natural beauty of the surrounding woodland clearing. Inside of an upscale open-barn event space, guests are treated to a comprehensive master class in the subtle art of flower cutting and floral arranging. Guests are treated to delicious snacks and beverages, and they also get to take their creations home with them!
For those interested in renting out the Maple Flower Farm for a celebratory occasion, the space is also available for small-scale private gatherings and events; bridal showers; birthday celebrations; Plein air painting workshops; photography workshops; fun, chic gatherings; and corporate outings. The farm is not open to the general public without an appointment, so prospective visitors should contact Liz Krieg directly to schedule a visit through the website: