Exploring Vermont: A Visit to Two Farms

Pasture views at Billings Farm

Vermont seems to be one beautiful green pasture and hilly landscape after another. This was certainly true when we visited the Billings Farm and Museum near the lovely town of Woodstock. This is a fully operating historic farm that features over 70 Jersey cows, a herd of sheep, draft horses, pigs and chickens. The farm grows most of the animal food needed. This is a place you can spend a half a day or more visiting the animals, taking a tour of the vegetable gardens, seeing the exhibits in the farm museum and touring the 1890 house where the farm manager and his family lived.

Jersey cows at Billings Farm

The Belgian draft horses were a delight to see. They work around the farm pulling wagons, farm equipment and sleighs carrying visitors in the winter. How fun it would be to take a sleigh ride around the farm!

Mark says hello to one of the Belgian draft horses

Inside the dairy barn you can see where the cows are milked and visit the tiny calves. Using milk from the cows the farm makes cheddar cheese which is sold in the onsite farm and gift store (at a pretty price).

Dairy barn at Billings Farm

The museum exhibits were in four original barns and were interesting as well. We were able to see equipment and learn about the typical activities on a Vermont farm from 100 years ago. It was a fun day stepping back in time and seeing an old fashioned farm. Plus the ice cream they sell there was delicious!

Entrance to Sugarbush Farm

It is hard to come to Vermont and not visit a maple syrup farm. I love real maple syrup, one of the best things to come from a tree in my opinion – well at least the sap does. We visited the Sugarbush Farm which began in 1945 and reports producing syrup from 8000 maple trees. The farm is still in the same family and is located in a lovely foothill woodsy setting. They have a house that is a cheese and syrup tasting room as well as a gift shop. Although they don’t produce their own cheese, they buy cheese from another farm, dip it in a coating wax and finish the packaging. We headed for the samples first and were helped by a young man in a rather dismal and unkept looking room where the cheese packaging is also done. No packaging was being completed when we visited, but there were remains of red wax on the walls and floor. This was probably the least appealing maple syrup and cheese shop I have visited in our travels.

The tasting room and gift shop might have been a bit of a disappointment, but the walk in the woods to see the maple trees and learn how the sap is gathered was interesting and informative. They even kindly provide mosquito repellant at the edge of the woods – the first time I have seen a business do this. Mark hates mosquitos, or even the thought of them and did not venture far.

Entrance to the Maple Grove

Walking the trail through the maple forest there were signs periodically explaining the process of tapping the trees and how the lines are put in. Trees used to be tapped with buckets, but now plastic lines are a more efficient process. In the photo below, a hole is drilled into the tree, a blue plastic spout is hammered in and saplines connect several trees together. The sap runs through the lines into a large black pipe to a tank at the bottom of the hill. The spouts are removed at the end of each sugaring season so the hole heals over and next year a new hole is drilled. After seeing the sap lines here I was able to spot them at other places including Massachusetts where we drove past a number of maple groves.

Learning how maple trees are tapped

A maple tree has to be about 40 years old before it is tapped. The Farm reported this is usually judged by the diameter of the tree, an average of 12 inches. The tree can live to be at least a hundred years old with favorable conditions – that is a lot of years to produce sap! Conditions needed for good maple sap flow are cold nights of about 20-30 degrees and “warmer” days of 40-50 degrees. Sugarbush Farm collects the syrup in March and April.

Sap lines connect the maple trees

Betty, the second generation owner of this farm had a dream to have a chapel in the woods so her son built her one and she renewed her wedding vows celebrating 50 years in 2012. This tiny church is sometimes reserved for weddings and is a cute addition to the farm.

Chapel in the Woods

We also visited the maple syrup house to see exhibits, displays and the processing equipment that turns the sap into syrup. We learned that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of pure maple syrup – or as the photo below shows, four and a half buckets to make one quart.

Visiting the Sugar House
Bucket Display

A paper we could take with us extolled the “health benefits” of maple syrup reporting since it is rich in zinc and manganese it helps the immune system and improves heart health. The syrup also reportedly contains inflammation reducing antioxidants to fight diseases such as arthritis, heart and inflammatory bowel disease. I would think the high sugar content would cancel out some of these benefits but this paper never pondered that. This reminded me of our trip to a sugar museum in Louisiana sugarcane country where we watched a film put out by the sugar industry. At the end of the film we learned about the many healthful benefits of consuming sugar.

Hanging petunia baskets in Montpelier

I will close with a photo of some large and colorful hanging baskets of petunias on a museum porch in Montpelier, the capital of Vermont. These were just a few as the long porch was lined with them. I can think of one of our readers who loves seeing these beauties while traveling!

2 thoughts on “Exploring Vermont: A Visit to Two Farms”

  1. I’ve always wanted to visit a sugar shack! The Quebec episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show turned me on to the idea, but I held on to the idea of going in the winter when they had sweets. Love me some Maple Syrup! Will always remember us buying from that Amish family in New York. Interesting to know more about the process. We saw rubber tree farms in Vietnam that looked similar. Interesting all the things we can get frmo nature. I am a little shocked you wouldn’t spring for the fancy cheddar cheese after our grilled cheeses from all the goat cheese in NY, its a shame to ever pass on good cheese! 🙂

    1. Hi Matt! I would also love to go to Vermont during maple sugaring time in March! A cold time to travel there though, but I would enjoy seeing firsthand the process. I don’t believe I have seen that Bourdain episode, I will keep an eye open for it though. Yes, I have thought about our visit in the Finger Lakes to the Amish Maple Farm, so fun to get those goodies from them. I bet a rubber tree farm would be fascinating to see. I did not know you went to one of those!

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