The Farm Report: How Local Sugar Shacks Rate in the 2014 Foliage Season

Nancy making maple creemees at Morse Farm. Photo by Carla Occaso.

Nancy making maple creemees at Morse Farm. Photo by Carla Occaso.

by Michelle A.L. Singer

We know it has been a beautiful fall with sunny weekends, balmy temperatures, not much rain, and of course, beautiful leaves. The hiking and the apples have been excellent, but for local businesses, the stakes are higher than that. The appearance of tour buses heralds an important economic, as well as ecological, time of year. I checked in with Doug Bragg of Bragg Farm on Route 14 and Burr Morse of Morse Farm on County Road, both in East Montpelier, to see what the fall foliage season means for their businesses and how they rate this year.

Bragg Farm has been hosting visitors for over 30 years and this year, says Doug Bragg, has been as good as any other and a bit better because the colors were so good and the weather so nice. “Columbus Day weekend was one of the best we’ve seen. All the locals were out taking company around, lots of campers this year, everyone was out doing everything.” With good weather and great leaves, as well as a dip in gas prices, Bragg saw plenty of people this leaf season. “Weather makes all the difference,” he says.

His farm does not host tour buses, but they do have a lot of campers, RVs, and international tourists in addition to locals. He notes that most international tourists come from Europe: England, Germany and France. He also sees tourists from Japan and all over the states, with a healthy showing from Texas. “They all come for the leaves,” he says, “and the weather—in Texas and Florida, it’s still hot.” They buy maple syrup most frequently, followed by other Vermont food products like cheese, t-shirts, souvenirs, and the ever-popular creemee. He says the good mood and good color of this year had many visitors exclaiming that Vermont was “the greatest place they’ve ever been.”

For him, a healthy 60-65 percent of their annual income will be generated during leaf season. Not surprisingly, he says he has “no complaints” for this year. The colors turned early, he remarked, and it wasn’t over yet. He calls it a good season, with business busier than usual.

Burr Morse has also seen a good year. In the 50 years or so that people have been visiting his family’s sugar shack, he’s welcomed a lot of leaf peepers. “Without tourists,” he says, “the economy would be a lot worse than it is. I appreciate when local people have a good attitude about having tourists. It’s so important to be patient with bus traffic and longer lines; they are here for only a few hours or a few days, such a short time, but it’s a do-or-die time of year for us.”

Burr estimates that 350 tour buses came through Morse Farm this season, with approximately 35 people on each bus. He hosts people from all over Europe, with the majority being from the United Kingdom. Besides the English, German and Japanese visitors, he sees plenty of people who travel from California and all over the West and Midwest, noting that if they drive it’s all that much easier to take maple syrup home with them. He sells maple products the most: syrup, creemees, candy and things that go with syrup like pancake mix. He also sells plenty of souvenirs and “cute and cuddly things that grandparents can bring back to their grandkids.” The fall foliage season generates a “strong 25 percent” of income for Morse Farm. He says, “The average tourist 15 years ago had more disposable income. Now, our sales stay pretty constant from year to year.”

With an early start, exceptional weather, and gorgeous leaves, it’s officially been a “very good” leaf season for these local businesses.

Tourists visit Bragg Farm in East Montpelier. Photo by Carla Occaso.

Tourists visit Bragg Farm in East Montpelier. Photo by Carla Occaso.

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