In March, many people think about a little pot of Gold. It’s all about leprechauns, rainbows, lucky charms and gold coins; the luck of the Irish. But what about Switzerland?
Virginia’s Little Switzerland.
The Hidden Gem.
Highland County, Virginia.
You might not find a pot of gold, but you certainly can find a bucket (or tub) of clear sugar water running from the maple trees dotting the landscape. If you follow the Sugar Maple Trail, you will also find a jug of pure Highland County Maple Syrup, sweet, sticky, amber goodness.
During Seminar 4, VALOR Class V was lucky enough to visit Puffenbarger Sugar Camp, located in the Blue Grass Valley. In operation for over 100 years, the sugar camp began with Melvin who had to drill all the trees by hand and carried the buckets of sugar water back to the sugar house by horse. A good day of production would yield about 10 gallons of syrup. In 1959, Melvin’s son Ivan bought the sugar camp and began coming up with ideas to increase production. Ivan, and his wife Sis, used plastic tubing to collect sugar water and increased the number of evaporators in use. At the time, Ivan was also running a dairy and he got the idea to use the milking machine to hook to the trees, decreasing his labor force and increasing his production by 25%. It was such a novel idea that folks came from across the country to see his innovation. Later, by adding a reverse osmosis machine, which decreased boiling time by removing excess water, allowing him to make about 30 gallons of syrup per hour. Ivan’s son, Doug, and his wife Terri, now run the operation.
During our visit, Doug and Terri discussed the effect that the COVID pandemic had on their operation and the economics in Highland County. The Maple Festival, which happens annually in March has been cancelled for the last 2 years. This eliminated a major source of income for business in Highland. In order to navigate the pandemic, they began marketing their products on social media and can now ship their products throughout the United States (https://puffenbargersugarorchard.com)
Having grown up in Highland, I was very excited to get to bring my cohort to my hometown and show them the wonders of Virginia’s Little Switzerland. The beauty of the mountains, the hospitality of the people, the heartiness of their determination, their innovation in keeping the farm spirit alive, and of course, allowing them the taste of that wonderful sweet, sticky, amber goodness in a jug of pure Highland County Maple Syrup!
Check out this video that portrays more of life in Highland County and show cases VALOR Alumni, Kari Sponaugle.