Arnold Coombs is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Bascom Maple Farms, the largest supplier of maple syrup and maple sugar in the United States. You can find their products across the US and in 20 countries.
A seventh-generation Vermont sugarmaker on both sides of his family tree, Arnold is the current Vice Chair of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association. He paused from his work to share his insight into Vermont’s maple industry.
Did you always want to be a maple farmer? How did you get started?
I was probably in the 2nd grade when it hit me that I could go into the family business. From that point on I often looked at things from the perspective of being in the business, which helped in school. It kept it interesting.
Is stewardship of the land part of your business plan?
At Bascom, our mission statement is to maintain and continue the family farm so sustainability is always in the picture.
How does environmental responsibility equal good business for an agricultural operation?
Does it make for a better product? Is crop yield affected?
We’d soon be out of business if we didn’t act responsible towards the environment and it allows us to have a great product for the long term.
Tell us about the landscape you grew up in, and its emotional resonance.
I grew in the mountains of Southern Vermont. It’s a beautiful area with many small farms. Our house was down the street from my grand parents and the maple candy factory and up the hill from my uncles’ (two uncles) dairy farm and sugarhouse, which originally was my great grandfather’s farm. Up the road a little further was where my great great grand parents farmed. It was a wonderful place to grow up with lots of opportunities to work, which was good and bad.
Many of the farms have now shut down. The economics of dairy farming are tough on the small farmer. Specialty crops are allowing many farms to keep going. Maple is also a fast growing crop and a bright spot in Vermont agriculture.
What was the turning point for Bascom?
I don’t think there is any one moment but the industry has been growing since the early 60’s and has experienced significant growth the last 15 years. We’ve been fortunate to have some great customers who have spread the word about us and help us grow. We take care of them and they have taken care of us.
What is your role is in working with companies that are trying to use maple in their products?
Based on what a company is trying to do with maple, we use our experience to choose maple syrup or maple sugar and then, what specific grade or granule size would work best to achieve their desired flavor profile.
What are the big trends in maple usage you see?
We are seeing substantial grow is the use of maple in processed foods. Some growth areas are breweries, chocolate manufacturers, and cereal and beverage manufacturers.