Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Bettina Ring, Visits Highland County Maple Sugar Camp


(A male voice is heard saying, “When you go to pound that in with the hammer, you’re gonna hear a different sound once it gets solid,” followed by various tapping sounds.  A female voice excitedly says, “O.k.  Oh, I can see it!”)

That is the sound of Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Bettina Ring, tapping a maple tree under the direction of Ronnie Moyers of Laurel Fork Sapsuckers in western Highland County.  Those familiar with the maple syrup-making tradition know that sound all too well, and it was just one of many unique moments to be shared with members of the local community and beyond on Friday, March 1, 2019.  The community tree tapping event aimed to raise awareness about Virginia’s maple industry as it relates to agriculture and forestry, honor the maple producers and volunteers who keep the sugaring heritage alive and showcase that heritage to the younger generation, including students from Virginia Tech, Dabney S. Lancaster Community College and Highland Public Schools.

There was a general excitement in the air at the event as Highland County prepares for the 61st Annual Maple Festival, and Ms. Ring’s presence added to it.  She says, “So, I’m here today kicking off the maple syrup production and then the festival’s coming up, and it’s a way to really highlight how important maple syrup is to this community and how important the land is, agriculture and forestry.  Agriculture and forestry are, combined, our number one industry: 91 billion dollars, 450 thousand jobs in the state, and in this community, maple syrup plays a very important role in that, so we have producers that have been doing this.  It’s been in their family for seven generations, some of them, and to see how they continue the cultural heritage here.  They build on that history, and then they have family members that are getting involved that are bringing new ideas and innovation to the industry, so that they’ll continue to, hopefully, be able to have a viable business.  They’ll be able to keep the land in the family, and, so, for me, it’s great to be back in this beautiful county, so many great natural resources here, the farmland and the forest land, so we’re able to highlight how important this is to the economy in Virginia and how important rural economies are across the state and the contribution that they make, and farmland and forest land is such a big part of that, and to see what they’re able to do here on this farm and how they’re teaching each other.  They’re sharing with the students, the FFA students, Dabney Lancaster, Virginia Tech, so they’re learning more about how you help to manage the forest, so that you can continue to make maple syrup from that forest and you can have a healthy forest and get many products from that forest, many benefits from water quality protection, clean air, timber products, agricultural products like maple syrup, and how we can make sure that we’re supporting this community.  It’s such a great, great community.

“It’s been so much fun to be able to see the young people here, to be able to tap a tree and to see the sap and how that then eventually becomes syrup, to be able to taste that warm syrup when it’s fresh and how delicious that is.  It’s just truly a high-quality product, and we wanna make sure we do all we can to promote Virginia’s grown products, Virginia’s Finest products.”

Also in attendance was Virginia Tech professor, Dr. Tom Hammett.  He and Missy Moyers-Jarrells with Laurel Fork Sapsuckers are collaborating on a 3-year project to expand livelihood options for Virginia land owners through tree syrup production.  Among its several activities, the project wants to engage producers to increase tree sap and syrup production, enable new producers to enter the sector and diversify from maple to produce sap products from other tree species, such as sycamore and black walnut.

Links and email addresses to learn more about the events described in this story will be posted online at this story’s link at

61st Highland County Maple Festival:

Laurel Fork Sapsuckers:

“Expanding Livelihood Options for Virginia Land Owners Through Tree Syrup Production”

Dr. A.L. (Tom) Hammett, Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Programs at Virginia Tech: (

Missy Moyers-Jarrells with Laurel Fork Sapsuckers:

Ronnie Moyers of Laurel Fork Sapsuckers shows Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Bettina Ring, how to drill a hole as part of the maple tree tapping process

Various Highland County maple syrup producers and 2019 Maple Queen, Hannah Newlin, pose with Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Bettina Ring

Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

Current Weather