Super Senior: Helen Robb

Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 5:18 PM EDT
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WEST BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s prime time at the Robb Sugarhouse in West Brattleboro.

“See that bubble coming down?” said Helen Robb, pointing to tubing strung between the maples. “It’s running pretty good actually.”

It’s boiling season and sap will soon become “liquid gold.” Robb may the maple operation’s matriarch, but she doesn’t work alone. There is her husband, Charlie, Charlie Jr., and Taylor Thurber, who started milking on the farm when he was 13.

Reporter Joe Carroll: Why do you keep coming back?

Taylor Thurber: I don’t have a choice now. I’m part of the family, I’m stuck here!

“This is the original sugarhouse,” Robb explains. “I spent a lot of hours in that. It was a small sugarhouse and it had a dirt floor.”

The dairy operation soured with low milk prices and they sold the cows in 2011. “The hardest part is when we went out of dairy and dairy farmers. It’s not just your business, it’s your life and your identity,” Robb said.

With 355 acres of land, they looked up to the maples. “Yes it was, but it was the best thing we could have ever done,” said Charlie Sr. Maple syrup hit the sweet spot for profitability.

Reporter Joe Carroll: Could you do it without Helen?

Charlie Robb Sr.: I would not want to do it without Helen. She’s the sparkplug.

Robb markets the syrup -- 98% is sold retail. They hope to sell 1,500 gallons this year. The 78-year-old knows the area, having grown up just a mile down the road. “I was never going to marry a farmer -- ever, ever, ever,” she said.

Reporter Joe Carroll: What changed?

Helen Robb: What changed? I met a guy and fell in love with him. What can I tell you?

The Robbs moved their operation closer to the road to attract tourists -- visitors like Sarah Kudman from New York City. “It’s been very cool to see the whole process,” Kudman said.

“Hold it right up to the light, you can see the difference,” Robb says, pointing out the difference in syrup grades.

Reporter Joe Carroll: They probably want you to buy stuff.

Sarah Kudman: I’m going to buy stuff, let’s be real here.

The tour continues with a look at the new evaporator. “It’s like our old evaporator, but it’s fancier. I call it “male bling.”

Reporter Joe Carroll: There are not too many women who do this. Why is that?

Helen Robb: I don’t know. It’s fun. I grew up with sugaring too, I think that has something to do with it.

A sample of what makes Vermont pretty sweet.

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