MILTON, Vt. — U.S. agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday toured 160,000-tap Georgia Mountain Maples, tapping the ceremonial first tree of the 2019 maple season with Vermont Gov. Phil Scott. and a group of second graders from a nearby school.
It was the first known visit of a sugarhouse by a U.S. agriculture secretary in modern history.
“What we saw here today was an experience here for me,” Perdue said. “I’ve never tapped a maple tree before.”
Perdue, who hails from the state of Georgia and is the former governor of that state, said he was impressed by the operation, owned by the Harrison Family and a showcase facility in the country’s biggest maple state.
“It was good to come and see a modern plant here,” the secretary said of the sugarhouse, which sits on a ledge at the base of Georgia Mountain. “I was blown away that Vermont produces half the syrup the U.S. consumes. I’m happy to be here during maple tapping season.”
Perdue, Gov. Scott, former Gov. James Douglas and state agriculture secretary Anson Tebbetts later toured Georgia Mountain’s expansive woods, its sprawling sugarhouse, the pump room, the R/O room and the sap storage areas.
Georgia Mountain Maples owner Kevin Harrison said he and wife, Shannon were notified about a week and a half ago that the secretary wanted to tour the Milton, Vt. facility, which opened in 2011 and is now one of the top five biggest sugarhouses in the nation.
“It was great for us,” Harrison said of the visit. “He was very sharp and it was great to show him something that might not necessarily be in his forte. But he left here with a good knowledge of the maple process.”
During the tour, Harrison explained in detail the process of syrup making from tree to evaporator.
He and Perdue walked the wet/dry pipeline system and talked about the concepts of high vacuum technology.
Back at the sugarhouse, in the pump room, Perdue commented that Harrison “was milking the trees,” just like a dairy operation.
Harrison said he was hoping the season would be in full swing for the visit, but like all Vermont sugarhouses this week, they were idle in the freezing temperatures.
Perdue claimed that maple syrup is what he personally uses on his pancakes back home in the Deep South.
“We use it in Georgia certainly,” he said. “That’s our syrup of choice in Georgia, even more than cane syrup.”