Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
If you live in the Northeast and have any sort of access to maple trees – from one to one thousand – odds are you are likely to tap them at some point in your life. It’s hard to resist the temptation to create sweet golden syrup right from your own backyard. Once you’ve tapped those trees, however, the process of converting sap to syrup (at a 40 to 1 ratio) is a bit more complicated. Boiling sap in your kitchen can leave a sticky film on every surface so taking the operation outside is a necessity. Homemade evaporating solutions include everything from turkey fryers to concrete blocks to barbecue grills; hardy New Englanders have tried a thousand solutions. While they can make for a fun family weekend, most of these solutions are hard-pressed to match the efficiency of a full-scale evaporator, meaning you might spend more time and money on that one quart of syrup than if you were to go to your local sugarhouse and buy a gallon.
Justin and Kate McCabe of Montpelier, Vermont faced just such a dilemma a few years back. After having moved their family to a home with 10 acres of trees they were determined to try their hand at sugaring. The first year, they tried the propane grill with a big Thanksgiving Turkey Pan and quickly came to realize the amount of propane they were using far out-paced the return value of the syrup.
They looked far and wide for a better home boiling solution. The McCabes were dismayed to learn that most of the small evaporators that seemed logical for their size operation cost upwards of $1000 and would require a sugar shack in which to boil. That’s when Justin, an engineer and patent attorney, decided to try his own hand at designing a system that would be more economical and efficient than the choices he saw on the market.
After a few trial models, Justin landed on a design that worked for the family operation – the Sapling – a model they describe as “an affordable, easy-to- use, multi-use, portable, backyard evaporator!” On a lark, Justin decided to manufacture a dozen Saplings in his garage and see if anyone would be interested in buying them. It didn’t take long for them to sell out and for the McCabes to realize they were on the verge of creating their own small business – the Vermont Evaporator Company.
“The original Saplings sold to customers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York!” says Kate Whelley McCabe, “To young families, and retired couples. To beginners and seasoned sugar makers. Several of whom have kept in touch to tell us how happy they were with their product. We couldn’t believe it! We were surprised and delighted.”
The Sapling is not only an economical choice for sugaring, it also converts into a grill for off-season use. The McCabes reported to me that a new model is on the way that will also allow for conversion to a smoker/pizza oven. All at about an $800 pricepoint.
If this sounds too good to be true, then get in line, because Saplings regularly sell out. In fact, a visit to their website confirms that they’ve already sold out for 2017 and are starting a 2018 wait list!
Beyond being entrepreneurs and passionate stewards of their own land, the McCabes have a strong commitment to doing things “right” which for them means “the kind way, the generous way, the way that shares our success with our family and community.” When they formed the company, they gave half of the ownership to their parents and siblings as compensation for their contributions – monetary and otherwise – their enthusiasm, and their support. They are now raising capital, $250 at a time, from ordinary Vermonters through Milk Money Vermont.
“In my experience,” says Whelley McCabe, “when your ‘shareholders’ are your friends, family and neighbors, it changes everything, professionally and personally. You may have thought ‘buy local,’ ‘support local,’ ‘invest local’ before. But when you are the recipient of that attitude, both the financial and moral support it engenders, it makes keeping your own dollars in the community almost reflexive.”
The Vermont Evaporator Co. is putting their money where their mouth is; they just signed on with a Vermont company to do their stainless welding (the only part of the operation they don’t do themselves) and they use a local marketing company for all of their communications.
This summer, you’ll find them at the Burlington, VT Mother Earth News Fair, and if you act quickly you can get on their list to purchase a sapling next year at this year’s price! Visit www.vtevap.com to learn more.
Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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