Dan and Morgan Wade bought the 218 acres that make up Buckwheat Hill Farm in 2006. Buckwheat Hill gets its name from its previous owner, Marion. Marion and her extended family owned the property for about 40 years. They farmed the land, primarily for potatoes. And the winter cover crop was, as you might suspect, buckwheat. So Marion called the property Buckwheat Hill. Over the years, her brother George Carr built many outbuildings on the property, including a sugar shack. He started making maple sugar on the property in about 1969. After the Wades brought the property, George, about 80 at the time, continued to sugar in his sugar shack, tapping about 500 trees.
After making some updates to the farmhouse (like electricity), Dan and Morgan Wade moved to the property full-time and started wondering how to make a living in this remote corner of Vermont. Of course, maple syrup came to mind. First, they thought to count the trees to see if it was a viable option. Have you ever tried to count trees in a forest? Easier than counting stars, but still rather awkward. They made up tags with metal ties and numbered them. After a day in the woods, they realized that was not the most fruitful method. They got a small counter – much more realistic. After confirming that the number of sugar maples made a sugaring operation a realistic enterprise, they set about making it happen.
Dan built a sugarhouse in 2009 and started setting up the sugarbush, as the maple trees that provide the sap are called. We made our first syrup in the spring of 2010.
Dan has been making maple syrup his entire life. At the age of 8, he took snow-shoveling money, bought taps, and tapped the two maple trees by his house in upstate New York. He used milk jugs he got from a friend to collect the sap. He took one of his mother’s pans, unbeknownst to her, and started boiling on a rock fire pit in the back yard. Unfortunately, the sap, along with the pan, burned. As you can imagine, his mother was angry and told him, “Never do that again.” So, the next day, he got a different pan. He managed not to burn it and had it cleaned and back in the cabinet before his mother got home. When he shared the syrup, his family thought it was great, but his mother told him she thought she’d said never to do that again. Dan, in Dan fashion, claimed he thought she meant not to burn the pan again.
When he was a teenager, Dan started collecting sap in buckets with a group of friends to boil down on his friend Shane Hurlbut’s family farm. Shane’s father Ronald worked in Cornell University’s agronomy department, which gave the boys access to the most up-to-date information on maple research. They tapped about 1000 trees on the farm and had great fun making syrup for years.
After Dan moved to Canaan, Vermont, he convinced his friend Scott McKibben to start sugaring on his 48 acres of land. They started with 50 or so trees, boiling the sap under a tarp in a flat bottom pan. This quickly led to a small sugarhouse and a back yard evaporator. From 1994 until 2006, Dan worked doing lighting for the motion picture industry, but whenever possible, he was back in Vermont, preferably in the spring to make maple syrup with Scott.
Morgan grew up in northern Georgia, spending time in the outdoors and dreaming of living on a farm. After moving to Vermont for graduate school, she discovered the art that is the making of maple syrup. Lucky enough to have an apartment near some farms, Morgan quickly made friends and visited the sugarhouses during the season. When she and Dan got married, she joined him in Canaan. The opportunity to purchase Buckwheat Hill came up, and she and Dan knew it was the right thing to do.