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Photo of Evan Branon in the sugarhouse

Behind The Boil: Injury In The Sugar Woods

It was a good day for Evan Branon to be in the woods.

It was a reasonable temperature for mid-December and Evan was leading a crew of guys who had found their groove tapping maple trees to prepare for the 2023 sugaring season. Of the 90,000 taps needing to go in, about 20,000 had already been put into trees. It was a good start to the season.

Until it wasn’t.

Half walking, half slipping down a steep hill with some 50 pounds of gear in his work vest, Evan firmly planted his left foot. As he went to step with his right foot, his left foot sunk deep into the mud. The momentum of the downhill descent caused his gear to shift. Propelled by gravity, every part of Evan’s body moved in one direction except for his lower left leg now firmly stuck in the unfrozen ground.

“I went head over tea kettle,” Evan said, “breaking my tibia right below the knee.”

Sugaring Is Farming

We’re not suggesting that maple syrup lovers should feel even the slightest pang of guilt for enjoying the sweet rewards of sugarmakers. But as Evan’s serious leg injury suffered in December of 2022 illustrates, maple sugaring is a farming activity, and farming relies on vigorous physical labor to bring a product to the table.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, more people die while farming each year than while serving as police officers, firefighters, or other emergency responders. Those U.S. Bureau of Labor stats shows a rate of work-related deaths per 100,000 workers in the agricultural industry that’s seven times higher than the national average for workers. And one four-year study showed that more than 60,000 farm workers were injured on the job.

Getting Out

In intense pain, lying on the ground in a cold Vermont forest, Evan wasn’t thinking about suddenly becoming a statistic. He was worried about getting out of the woods.

Some quick thinking by the other five members of the Branon tapping crew helped extract Evan.

“Luckily, I was only 100 yards or so from the 4-wheeler,” he said. “Still, the guys had to take their vests and make a kind of makeshift hammock out of them to carry me to it. From there it was about a 4-mile drive to where the truck was. It was the worst pain I’ve ever been through in my life.”

Surgery And Rehab

As shock set in, an extremely uncomfortable trip to the local hospital for X-rays confirmed the worst. Evan’s left tibia was broken, and the fracture extended up into the knee joint. A couple of weeks later, he underwent surgery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center getting two plates and eight screws inserted into his leg.

A couple of weeks after the surgery was complete, Evan was in good spirits. He gave several interviews to Vermont media as Branon Family Orchards undertook an early-season boil. Still, he was worried about how much tapping still needed to be done to be fully prepared for the upcoming sugaring season. He also is facing a long road of grueling physical therapy to get back on his feet.

“Ten times out of ten, I would not recommend doing this again,” Evan said. “I don’t expect people to think about how much physically demanding work goes into making maple syrup, but I can attest that it’s not all fun and games.”

About Branon Family Maple Orchards

With headquarters in Fairfield, VT, Branon Family Maple Orchards is a multi-generational agricultural family-owned business specializing in Pure Vermont Maple Syrup and maple products. Powered by renewable solar and made in an Audubon approved bird-friendly habitat, Branon Family Maple Orchards produces single-sourced organic maple syrup. They also carry a variety of maple sauces, rubs, jellies, and other maple specialty products in a sustainable, eco-friendly manner. For more information visit

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