Rep. Peter Welch knows how to make friends in Congress.
“If I give somebody maple syrup here, you’ve got a friend for life,” he said.
The Vermont Democrat had breakfast with HOH and brought along some maple syrup from Richardson Farm, a five-generation sugaring operation right next to his home in Hartland, Vermont.
“I never have syrup from other states,” Welch said. “It wins awards, so it’s not just me being the Vermont chauvinist for the maple sugar industry. Vermont, it really is the biggest producer.”
As the state’s at-large congressman, he knows Vermont better than most. So what does a perfect day in the Green Mountain State look like?
“In Vermont you’ve got to get up, do your chores, have a family breakfast,” he said. “That could be Vermont eggs, bacon — all can be local — pancakes and, obviously, maple syrup. You’ve got to have that.”
All that food adds up.
“If you have that big breakfast, you’ve got to exercise,” Welch said. “So in the winter, it’s cross country skiing. In the summer, it’s running.”
There are friendly competitions among members of Congress from sugar-producing states over who makes it best.
“A lot of them brag about it,” he said. “Joe Courtney’s my friend, works with me on a lot of agricultural issues. He’s from Connecticut, and he likes to claim Connecticut is the best, but that’s, like, laughable. Sen. [Charles E.] Schumer tries to claim New York is best, and actually, he’s been quite helpful on some of our legislation.”
The latest farm bill, which passed in 2014 and will expire in September, included wins for the maple syrup industry, such as grants for research and development.
New technologies are changing the way farmers tap trees, Welch said.
“They have reverse osmosis machines that take the water out of the sap before they boil it so they’re able to save a lot of fuel,” he said.
But tradition and a sense of place are part of syrup’s appeal.
“There’s an enormous desire on the part of people to have local production of things. It’s a response to globalization,” he said.
Welch plans to keep evangelizing for the sticky breakfast staple.
“The industry, it’s really vital in Vermont,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard family work that people love.”
He also plans to keep the syrup flowing.
“You got to be generous with the syrup here,” he said while eating Pete’s Diner pancakes. “Homer Simpson loved maple syrup too. Homer Simpson would always have a glass … in the morning, which I don’t recommend unless you want to look like Homer.”