Snow Hill Farm is a small family operated sugarhouse in Westford, VT. We have 900 taps of our own and also buy sap from some neighbors and friends. We have a 3x10 wood fired arch with a forced draft and automatic draw off. Our sugarbush is set up with tubing and vacuum and we recently purchased our first reverse osmosis to reduce our firewood consumption and save time.
Our maple sugaring story begins back in the Depression in the Adirondacks of New York. My father, Vernon Wamsganz, lived through the Depression, graduating from high school in 1932. Times were tough for many years after that and he had to do what he could to be resourceful and feed his family. One of the many things he learned through those tough times was how to make maple syrup. At the foot of Baker Mountain in Saranac Lake he would tap trees and boil sap in a kettle over an open fire. The result was something sweet for the family without much cost. Over the years when times were better he continued to make maple syrup at his house on Pine Street because he enjoyed it and not many people in that part of New York were producing maple syrup. In the early 1960’s he relocated to Vermont with my Mom Gretchen and they settled in suburban South Burlington, just off Dorset Street. Dad being the outgoing character he was, started asking the neighbors if he could tap their trees. He would walk through the neighborhood whistling and carrying two pails to collect sap and boil the next day. He also tapped trees around the church we attended and eventually had 200 taps. All of the trees were drilled with a hand auger. The boiling hours were long and collecting sap by hand was hard, but if it was easy I don’t think he would have done it. At the end of each season he gave some syrup to everyone who allowed him to tap their trees.
I came into the picture in 1967 and grew up watching and then participating in this fascinating hobby. I remember many mornings waking up and looking out the back window to see the steam rising from the arch. Dad would get up at 5 am to start the fire when the sap was really running. As I got older I would help with the collecting as he boiled. He was always eager to hear how much I came back with. It was a source of pride when I was finally able to carry two full five gallon pails of sap back to the sugarhouse without spilling them. Over the years Dad built a small sugarhouse and wood shed with mostly recycled materials. His equipment was mostly used and nothing like the things we have today. There was no tubing, vacuum or reverse osmosis, just an open pan over a cement block arch with barely enough room inside to fit a few friends and family. The mostly finished maple syrup was brought in the house to Mom and she carefully finished it on the gas stove and poured it in to glass canning jars. I can still see them lining the kitchen table and all the windows covered with steam.
Dad and Mom continued to sugar after I went away to college and I would help whenever I was home for the weekend. Eventually I settled in Essex Jct. and would continue to help them when I could. They started scaling back as they got older and I was getting the itch to try sugaring on my own. In 1999 my wife Karin and I purchased our land in Westford. The property had just what we were looking for, a quiet country setting to raise our family and lots of maple trees on a hillside!
That fall we started clearing for the house and during the winter I ran tubing in the woods for sugaring. We tapped the trees in February of 2000 and for the next few years just sold sap to a neighbor to save for a sugarhouse. The sugarhouse was started in 2003 and we boiled for the first time in March 2004. Dad & Mom were a little overwhelmed the first time they saw our operation in action. Dad wasn’t used to tubing, vacuum, forced draft or an automatic draw off. He eventually embraced it and used to bring his neighbors & friends out here one by one to show them. He continued to boil a little syrup into his 90’s and we would always talk at night after a good day of sugaring to compare notes. Thanks Mom and Dad for all you taught me, we all miss you…
Our little farm has grown and we now have two young sons Alex & Owen, along with our dog Baxter! They have started working in the woods with me and they are really good at tasting the maple syrup! Maybe they will continue the tradition someday…