NORTH HERO – A farm nestled in Vermont’s Lake Champlain Islands has achieved the pinnacle of capitalism; their customers pay for the privilege of doing the work of the business. Not since the heyday of dude ranches have customers been willing to shell out so much money for the opportunity to replace employees. At North Hero Sugarfarm, tree huggers flock from around the state, and around the country, for the chance to squeeze a few maples and taste the results.
Farm owner Tad Boyle came up with the “Visiting Saps” program to generate some tourist dollars, while at the same time increasing his syrup production.
“It’s been a rough season,” Boyle says. “We’re not getting those thaws that we need to get the sap flowing. It’s been so dang cold. People round here been startin’ to worry a bit about the whole season’s production. I started huggin’ my own dang trees, tryna warm ’em up, get everything flowin’. That’s when I realized, there’s tons o’ tree huggers around that might just love to come and hug ’em for me. In fact, they’re even payin’ me to do it! We got so many Visiting Saps these days I might need to plant some more trees fer next year.”
People participating in the Visiting Saps program are encouraged to dress warmly, although extra blankets are always on hand to wrap around both hugger and tree. After a few hours of hugging, the participants are given a taste of pure sap from their personal tree, a certificate that designates them an ‘official tree hugger,’ and 6 oz of maple syrup to take home with them.
“Squeeze hard!” Boyle tells his customers. “The more love you put in, the more sweetness you get out!”