BLACKSBURG, Va. — One of the East Coast’s oldest agricultural activities is finding its sweet spot among Virginia’s most celebrated home-grown commodities.
More than 100 maple and tree syrup producers are being contacted to form a new statewide coalition, initiated by researchers at Virginia Tech’s Department of Sustainable Biomaterials in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. With an association’s support, Virginia can be recognized for its rich, high-quality tree syrups, cohesively marketed and certified among the finest in North America.
Guinevere Unterbrink, a wildlife conservation student at Virginia Tech, is tracking down tree syrup producers in Virginia, no matter the size or scale of their operations.
“Everyone counts, from hobbyists to farms,” Unterbrink said. “The goal is to start a syrup producers’ association to help producers find assistance, equipment and, if needed, markets for syrup.”
Plus, an association will help new producers apply for grants, procure marketing funds and access the latest research and technical expertise, said Dr. Tom Hammett, professor of sustainable biomaterials at Virginia Tech.
Highland-Bath County Farm Bureau members Christoph and Lauren Herby of Tonoloway Farm started producing maple, black walnut, maple-walnut and hickory syrups in 2019 after realizing their property was a long-abandoned sugar camp. They attended a Virginia Tech workshop and looked to the community for guidance.
“There’s such a rich tradition and history of making maple syrup out here, it wasn’t hard to find experienced families who have been making syrup a long time,” Christoph Herby recalled.
Now they hope an official state association will help establish production standards and earn their syrups a “Virginia Grown” designation from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“It would be helpful to have a reference that says this is the Virginia state standard for maple syrup production,” Herby said.
Aside from support and resources, the coalition will ultimately raise public awareness about locally accessible Virginia-made tree syrups and value-added products.
“We’re comparable to Vermont, New York or Canada’s syrups in flavor, texture or color,” Hammett said. “But why not buy local? Virginia has a deep heritage of producing maple syrup. It will do a lot of good for the producers in the state.”
Syrups are mostly produced in western areas of Virginia, but the positive economic implications of a syrup coalition’s marketing power may be felt statewide.
“People use maple syrup and sugar as a sweetener for baking, toppings for desserts and oatmeal, or coffee sweetener,” Hammett said. “It’s not just about pancakes and waffles anymore.”
Tree syrup producers interested in participating can send their name, mailing address, county, phone number and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org
–Virginia Farm Bureau