• Politics won’t make the grade
    November 12,2012

    I’ve pledged before to exclude talk of politics, pestilence, or war from this column, but once in a while something so important comes up that I have to “tweak” my rules. I’m sure you’ll understand, what with America’s recent election and hostile threats from the Middle East. Yup, there’s no shortage of front page stuff out there so here goes.

    This talk of change has me wavering between furious and neurotic. By day, my stomach does somersaults and by night, I can’t sleep. So what is this, you say, that has Burr Morse so shook up? It’s the change of course — the dreaded change — they’re talking about changing the grading system of Vermont maple syrup!

    I’m such a failure at anything “political” that, except for a couple short stints on Vermont maple “boards” in years past, I’ve opted to run my own business and let other folks run the “politics of maple” in Vermont. My father was on a maple board around 30 years ago when they first changed our grading law. They went from the “pure and simple” language of grades “Fancy, A, B, and C” to the more complex language of grades “Fancy, A Medium Amber, A Dark Amber, and B.” That, I might add, created trauma equal to a front pan meltdown for folks everywhere. In fact, the day that change was announced goes down in my personal memory book with the days Kennedy was shot and Armstrong walked on the moon. To this day, people are still confused about that 30-year-old change, a confusion best explained by the following dialogue:

    The man walks up to me in my store and says “Burr, I need a half gallon of syrup. What’s the grade that use ta be grade B that’s now somethin’ else?”.

    “That’d be Grade A Dark Amber,” I reply.

    “Hmmm,” he puzzles. “So there’s no more grade B?”

    “Sure there is. B was C before the change,” I say, maple professional that I am.

    “So, no more C then, huh?”

    “Yes, there is,” I say hesitantly.

    “Well, then I’ll take some C. I loved that,” he says, beaming.

    “Can’t, they’ve made it illegal,” I say. (Non-maple professionals please don’t even attempt to understand!)

    Cautiously I approach him like I’m about to spread open my trench coat to show him an array of watches. “Grade A Dark Amber is what y’want, trust me.” The last I see of him, he’s heading to the cash register with a half gallon of Grade A Dark Amber and a very confused look on his face.

    The new change, let’s call it change B (or is that C?) designates four grades as “A,” adds descriptive language to each, and makes some C legal again (well, “sort of” and under another name ... maple professionals, please don’t even attempt to understand!) The reasons these changes are important to adopt, so say our Vermont maple “politicians,” is that in just a few years, Vermont maple sugarmakers have radically increased their number of taps. Translation: Even in an average year, Vermont will make way more syrup than we can sell. Those same experts think that standardizing our grade “language” with all other maple producing states and Canada (which this change will do) will help us to open up certain export markets that Vermont maple folks have been unable to do on their own.

    After hundreds of hours of agonizing perusal, I’ve decided to get behind this change. After all, as well as being a maple professional, I’m also a “decent” marketer. I’m aware of a very large and hungry world out there, a world that deserves all the syrup we can make.

    So, sometime in January 2013, our Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, hopefully, will present to the world the following grades of pure Vermont maple syrup: Grade A Golden Delicate, Grade A Amber Rich, Grade A Dark Robust, and Grade A Very Dark Strong.

    That said, I’ll let my mind revert back to the less official: “Hell, it don’t matter what y’call it, Vermont maple syrup’s the best in the world. It’ll speak for itself.”

    Burr Morse lives in East Montpelier.

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