Objective 1 : Expand the maple syrup market and increase sales for Vermont producers in schools in Lamoille, Bennington, and Orleans counties. We will do this by connecting sugar makers with their local school nutrition personnel and helping them to establish relationships with their local schools. This will ultimately expand the economic market for maple producers in Vermont. Due to the grant timeline we are limiting initial outreach to three counties.
Objective 2: Develop a purchasing process which makes it easier for Vermont sugar makers to sell their products to school nutrition personnel. We will provide technical assistance to sugar makers and to school nutrition staff to assist in the procurement process. If the procurement process is easier for school nutrition staff to navigate, sugar makers will benefit by having a new market for their syrup.
Objective 3: Determine a baseline of maple syrup sales to schools around the state of Vermont. This will allow us to know how much maple syrup is currently being sold to schools and also to understand the extent to which the maple market exists in schools. We will achieve this baseline by surveying sugar makers and school nutrition professionals.
Although Vermont is famous for its maple syrup production, Vermont syrup is served in a minority of our schools. In this project, we propose to work with VMSMA and the maple sugar industry to develop purchasing relationships with schools. Forging these connections will offer a direct market previously untapped by sugar makers as well as an investment in future consumers. This will build a new market for the maple sugar industry in Vermont. As Matt Gordon wrote in his letter of support for this project: “With the farm-gate price for syrup slumping and production expanding, producers are seeking new markets. Providing local procurement opportunities within their community, such as to schools, has the potential to create a positive impact on small farm businesses.”
This is a new project which builds on the lessons learned in NOFA-VT’s previous Specialty Crop Block Grant Project to establish a market for Vermont fresh fruits and vegetables in schools. NOFA-VT developed tools and provided technical assistance to school nutrition personnel to enable them to better navigate the food procurement system and purchase Vermont products. We can now use these existing tools and adjust them to facilitate maple procurement.
Shelburne Farms, NOFA-VT’s Farm to School partner in VT Food Education Every Day (VT FEED), also worked on this previous Specialty Crop Block Grant project, creating resources for farmers to host school and community groups. They will work with us to expand maple syrup activities to maple producers, as well as conduct trainings for sugar makers to illustrate successful activities that can be conducted on a sugar bush or in a sugar house. Shelburne Farms is well known and well respected in the Vermont community for their work with both farmers and sugar makers.
This project also builds on a rudimentary survey we conducted in 2017, which allowed us to understand the extent to which sugar makers wish to engage with school markets. Through the survey, VT-FEED also learned that school nutrition staff have a commitment to providing Vermont maple syrup, though may not understand how to procure local products or know who to engage.
- Survey sent to all VT sugar makers in VMSMA and received over 50% return (67 responses).
- Survey sent to all school nutrition directors in Lamoille, Orleans, Washington, and Bennington Counties and received under 50%.
- Paired regional Farm to School partners to work with VMSMA county representatives in Lamoille, Orleans and Washington Counties. Each of these 3 pairs are working on materials for taste testing maple, maple education on the sugarbush and in classrooms.
- Working with Shelburne Farms educators on materials, activities, and presentations for the 3 maple conferences held in January.
- Working with VMSMA on marketing for sugar makers on selling to schools and doing educational activities.
- New purchasing of maple syrup amounted to approximately 200 gallons over 3 counties.
- With additional grant funds from the State of VT, we are able to add support to Chittenden and Addison County sugar makers who want to make connections to schools.
- Due to the resignation of the VMSMA executive director in the late Spring 2019, we were unable to do a follow up sugar maker survey to determine the results of our supports and training we did.
See the uploaded survey results
Our training and technical assistance in 2019 was delivered in three forms:
- We conducted both school procurement and education activities workshops at the three different maple sugar makers annual conferences. We included materials about the school nutrition programs and how to respond to school solicitations and simple activities to use when hosting at the sugar house or in a classroom.
- Three regional farm to school partners provided one-on-one support to help sugar makers conduct school tastes or classroom visits. 20 schools reported having sugar makers conduct taste tests at their school or hosted students at their sugarbush. This individual support developed new relationships, however it is a slow process.
- Videos and printed materials are being finalized and will be shown at six of the county wide sugar maker meetings in January. These will be made available on the VT FEED and VMSMA websites when they are completed.
Over 2018-2019 we have developed a solid relationship with the VT Maple Sugar Makers Association Board and many members. They welcome our support and want us to expand our outreach to an additional 2 counties. There was a pause in activities due to the absence of the Executive Director for 4 months during summer 2019, so we have been delayed in further developing materials. We will be presenting the videos and materials at 6 county meetings in January and they will be available to schools and sugar makers for the Harvest of the Month program that features Maple in March in schools.
We have successfully created training and materials to help sugar makers understand the school food procurement processes they will be asked to use to sell syrup to schools. In fact, the Orleans County sugar makers have created a collective model to offer a consistent wholesale price to schools and provide a monthly purchasing service to the schools in their county. Sales have increased in the 2 of the counties we initially identified: Orleans and Washington. Bennington County schools we found purchase VT maple syrup through a distributor, so do not need the support on purchasing, but do need support around how to build relationships with their local schools for educational purposes.
As a result of this NESARE funding, we were able to leverage 2 other small grants to expand our support to Lamoille County schools and sugar makers.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
3 presentations in the last 18 months to the VMSMA board and 2 county presentations of the project, purchasing, and educational activities.
Incorporated maple activities in 2019 Harvest of the Month materials and in the VMSMA newsletter in time for the March Maple Open House weekend.
The 4 maple producers we are working with to organize county-based activities are learning more about the school nutrition programs they want to sell to and the procurement policies. They also have been introduced to working with some regional Farm to School partners in their counties.
The 3 Farm to School regional partners and myself are learning more about the maple sugaring market and VT maple production.
What changed during the first year of this grant and interventions were the relationships that producers made with school nutrition personnel and with students they hosted or did taste tests with. As an example, a Orleans sugar maker commented, “… the maple tasting at Barton and Orleans went great! The school food service were awesome. They did great communicating with me beforehand and did an awesome job with the kids during the tastings with me.” It takes a lot of time and direct contact to develop these relationships, but students, school nutrition personnel and the sugar makers who participated got a lot out of the experiences and want to continue.
Sugar makers in the 4 counties we provided the most services and support to feel they have benefited. After providing taste testing in 2 schools and a classroom activity a Washington County sugar maker stated, “I really appreciate the work in connecting school’s to sugar makers. It is really important for kids to learn about where their food comes from. I really appreciate the sales to schools.”
We are still at the beginning of the in depth work with maple sugar makers and school nutrition personnel. However, we were pleased with the initial interests by these stakeholders and have regional partners paired with VMSMA county leads to work together in 3 of the 4 counties (Lamoille, Orleans, Washington, Bennington). We added Washington County based on another funding source so we can extend our reach.
We will know more after the 3 maple conferences we present at in January regarding the value of the presentations, activities, and materials we have created.
At the workshops we videotaped the sugar makers as the ‘star actors’ in the educational activities so that they were more likely to appeal to other sugar makers, being more realistic. We are finishing these up and will post them on VT FEED website and link to VMSMA website. In addition, we are finishing up printable materials in time for the Harvest of the Month March 2020 for schools to use.