FAIRFIELD — As 2020 comes to close and the next sugaring season gets underway in Vermont, the Dubie family — of Dubie Family Maple in Fairfield — is reflecting on the year it’s had.
Like most Vermonters, the Dubies have had their ups and downs this year. While the pandemic made landfall just as maple syrup production was getting underway in March, the family received state-wide recognition over the summer, when its business was named 2020’s Outstanding Sugar Maker by the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association.
The award recognizes a Vermont sugar maker, individual or family who sets a good example for other sugar makers to follow in cleanliness, food safety and production practices.
Dubie Family Maple is run by husband-and-wife-team, Mark and Marianne, along with their son Nate.
“As Vermonters, we’ve been around sugaring our whole life,” Mark said. “The award is humbling, because we know many other syrup producers work hard too.”
The Dubies said they feel extremely fortunate, because unlike many other industries, theirs has actually seen a spike in sales during the pandemic.
U.S. sugarmakers produced 4.4 million gallons of maple syrup this year — nearly 200,000 gallons more than in 2019, according to a report from the USDA. While wholesale purchases of maple syrup by restaurants and hotels decreased due to the pandemic, sales to retailers and consumers increased.
This increase could be attributed to more people cooking and baking at home, or seeking a refuge in a product that provides a comforting sweetness.
“The biggest question is, will that trend hold through next season?” Nate said.
“We are concerned,” Mark said. “The hotel and restaurant business is a big purchaser of maple syrup, so if that industry doesn’t come back, it is going to affect us.”
Mark and Marianne both grew up in Essex Junction, where Mark learned the trade from his grandfather. Years later, after working with Sam Cuttng Sr. at Dakin Farm in Ferrisburgh and studying with Glen Goodrich at Goodrich Maple in Cabot, Mark decided to start his own sugaring business.
The family’s first forest was in Starksboro, where they had 6,500 taps. In 2003, the Dubies sold the property and moved to Fairfield, where they grew their sugaring operation to 10,000 taps. Now, it has just under 50,000.
Dubie Family Maple Syrup is certified organic and has been since nearly the beginning.
“We certainly jumped on the organic bandwagon as soon as the trend was starting,” Mark said. “It’s important to us because the customer drives the bus, and the customer is requesting more and more organic in the world.”
One of the ways the family ensures their syrup is organic is by using natural sunflower and safflower oils instead of an industrial defoamer during the boiling process. Guidelines for tapping are also a bit more restrictive, but the Dubies value these practices.
“We are farmers so we respect the woods anyway,” Mark said.
The Dubies are currently preparing for tree-tapping which will begin Jan. 1. They are walking the farm’s 700 acres of woods to check for tubing that might have been damaged by downed trees and making upgrades to the sugarhouse where syrup production will take place.
“Most people think sugaring doesn’t start until February or March, but since October, sugaring season has essentially been in full swing for us,” Nate said.
For about eight weeks beginning in early January, Mark, Nate and three members of their staff will spend every day out in the woods tapping. Marianne will make them “the best lunches” and continue to keep the books and website up to date.
“She does more than she’ll admit,” Mark said. “She keeps us going.”
Marianne laughed and said she feels honored to get to work with her husband and her son everyday.
In addition, many of the Dubies’ nieces and nephews have worked at the farm over the years, and Mark said he is proud that the business has put so many of them through college.
“It’s pretty cool having a family business,” Nate said.