Island Pond, Vermont is seeing the dawn of Big Maple.
In a high-powered push into New England’s most tradition-bound agriculture, Sweet Tree Holdings — distant subsidiary of a huge Massachusetts-based insurance company — has turned an abandoned furniture factory on the outskirts of this rawboned village into the nation’s largest maple syrup production facility.
Some Vermont maple producers fear a monster in the making, a sweet-spewing Frankenstein financed by holding companies and hedge funds that threatens the centuries-old craft of New England syrup making.
Sweet Tree Holdings has invested “tens of millions” of dollars in the Island Pond operation, said chief executive Michael Argyelan, and is still researching possible products and potential markets — even as its boilers steam full-tilt.
“We’re not threatening anyone,” Argyelan said. “We should be good for everyone. We’re expanding maple production, turning timberland into sustainable sugarbush” — the term for semi-wild, groomed maple woods. “We’ve created jobs. We’re looking to devise new products. We’re natural, we’re organic; we’re non-GMO; we’re kosher and halal.”
Adam Parke, a Christmas tree grower who also makes syrup from 1,800 trees on Windswept Farm in Barton, Vt., is unimpressed.
“This is a big corporation intruding on a traditional way of life,” said Parke, who is having a good season and expects to bottle more than 500 gallons of top-grade syrup.
“The Vermont maple syrup business has always been about individual producers – you can put a name and face to most operations,” he said. “Growth is great. What’s not great is watching a beloved local industry hijacked by suits sitting in a boardroom somewhere.”
Note from Storm: I went to college in Vermont, and still love it and feel that it’s a home many years later. So, I’ll be keeping a close eye on this situation to see how it plays out for the industry, the traditions, and the local economies. If any subscribers have any insights or additional information, please share it in the Comments section below.