The Art In Celebrating Nature's Bounty

 
heart maple
 

April is all about the environment and this month we choose to celebrate "Trees of Life".  For all that trees provide, one of its sweetest bounties is celebrated each year in Highland County, Virginia.

dorothy stephenson

dorothy stephenson

Every year for the past 59 years, the county of Highland Virginia in the Appalachian Mountains celebrates its maple syrup industry that has been in the county for hundreds of years.   Although the festival is sponsored by the Highland County Chamber of Commerce, Dorothy Stephenson, Executive Direrector of the Highland County Chamber of Commerce and director of the Highland County Maple Festival, stresses the importance of it being a county and community wide effort.   “The coolest thing about the festival being a local resident is really seeing the community pitch in,” Stephenson says.   While this year has been Stephenson’s third organizing the festival, she has grown up attending the festival as a resident of Highland county.

The planning for the festival begins in May while the actual festival is held across two weekends in the following March.  Stephenson says the preparation begins with the marketing aspect and talking with the maple sugar producers, such as local sugar producer Ronnie Moyers with his family run business The Laurel Fork Sapsuckers, one of the seven commercial sugar camps in Highland county. The Laurel Fork Sapsuckers is the highest elevated commercial sugar camp in the Virginia Commonwealth, according to Moyers.

 
       “People get very excited when they can come into the camp and actually see the process we do and smell the maple in the air,” Moyers says.
 
ronnie moyers

ronnie moyers

Some of the equipment, such as “flat pans”, Moyers uses to make the syrup in and with is 100-years-old.This has been Moyers seventh year being a part the events.   According to him, usually 80% of his maple sugar is sold during the four days of the festival.   Around 1,000 guests came through the festival this past March despite the cold temperatures of 11 degrees one Saturday morning and six degrees Sunday morning, according to Moyers.  Visitors come to the festival from all across the country and sometimes internationally as well, Stephenson says. In past years people have visited from New York and Florida as well as Germany and Austria.

“The festival is very good for Highland County,” he says. “It brings a lot of revenue to the county which we need {for} the stores, the restaurants {and} other businesses. Possibly some people that come to Highland for the Maple Festival might see what a beautiful county we have and some of those people might decide to buy a property and possibly become a neighbor and relocate in Highland County.”

A $3 fee gets you into the Arts and Crafts Show, according to Stephenson.  This show features about 150 vendors such as photographers, wood workers, potters, seamstresses, and candle-makers.  Performance art is also included, as according to Stephenson, different entertainers such as clogging groups and a variety of bands perform, usually including an evening Blue Grass concert featuring a square dance at the Highland Center.  “Clogging is a local native dance to the Appalachian Mountains,” Stephenson says.

The festival as a whole is the Highland County community’s number one fund raising effort and even $3 helps the county immensely.  According to Stephenson visitors get to see a community completely pulling together as a team to put on this festival.

“It’s something that everybody should experience once in their lives,” Stephenson says. “It’s very, very special to see all the sugar producers and their individual and unique passions for the art of maple syrup making.”

syrup pans

syrup pans

Take a listen to the audio clip on the right to learn more about how maple sugar is made in Highland County.

Visit our website for more details on our honoring of April's #EnvironmentAwareness and our art-infused #pARTicipation in #ArborDay festivities here in New York.

 

BY ALEXANDRA RAMEY

Contributing from Virginia

 

Click below to learn all about the health benefits of maple syrup. 

http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20464527,00.html