The New England Fellowship of Agricultural Adventurers presented Wilson S. “Bill” Clark, of Pawlet, Vermont, with the 2019 Agricultural Adventurers Award at the Annual Meeting of Eastern States Exposition (ESE), May 16, in West Springfield, Mass.
The award, sponsored by Eastern States Exposition, was presented to Vermont’s legendary sugarmaker for his significant and far-reaching contributions to the maple sugaring industry in Vermont and beyond.
In 1944, at the age of 12, Clark and his brother Leon started a commercial maple operation called Clark Brothers and a maple mail-order business which, this year, celebrated its 70th anniversary. In 1957, they enlarged their maple operation and designed and built a sugarhouse in Wells, Vermont, making it welcoming to visitors. They promoted what is now known as “Maple Open House Weekends” with newspaper and radio advertising, drawing thousands of tourists. At one point, he was known to have owned the largest evaporator in the state.
He served as the president of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association (VMSMA) for 32 years (1969-2001), overseeing the organization during some critical years in the maple industry when bulk prices were at all-time lows.
He also served as president of the North American Maple Syrup Council for eight years and was part of the group that formed the charter for the International Maple Syrup Institute. He organized the first Vermont Maplerama, a premier maple tour and was president of the Rutland County Maple Sugar Makers Association for eight years.
Clark also took part in the formation of "Vermont Agricultural Enterprises" in 1972, which oversaw the management of the Vermont building at Eastern States Exposition, and served as its first president.
Over the years, it is estimated that more than 35,000 gallons of syrup were used by the VMSMA at the Exposition’s Vermont building making an estimated 2.2 million maple candies, filling thousands of maple syrup containers and selling a half million maple cotton candies, which was first introduced at The Big E in 1967.
In 1995, he was inducted into the American Maple Museum Hall of Fame, in Croghan, New York. He received the Lynn Reynolds International Leadership Award, presented by the International Maple Syrup Institute. He also received the Sumner Hill Williams Award for his lifetime of service to the Vermont maple industry, and is also in the Vermont Agricultural Hall of Fame at the Champlain Valley Exposition.
In 2001, he was elected president of the Vermont Farmers Market Association and served for 11 years. Clark has served as president of several organizations throughout his career, amounting to 51 consecutive years. They include the International Maple Syrup Institute and the North American Maple Syrup Council. He has been a passionate advocate for maple and agriculture in Vermont, New England and the U.S. for his entire career and life.
Tuesday, January 23, 2001, was known as “Bill Clark Day” at the Vermont Farm Show held in Barre. During VMSMA’s Annual Meeting & Banquet that day Bill was honored for his long service to the maple industry. Many local, state & federal dignitaries attended the banquet and paid tribute to Bill for his service.
When he retired, he penned an 84-page story titled “Forty Years and Five Days,” recounting his experiences, and sharing everyday musings and anecdotes of the Maple industry. In it, Clark said, “Vermont has a proud heritage in its Maple Sugaring Industry. It is older than the State itself and at one time or another it has taken place on almost every farm in Vermont. It is our oldest agricultural activity. For it, we are known worldwide. It is our very image.”
Clark and his wife Sue continue to participate in the Farmers Market in Rutland every weekend from spring to fall, selling produce and homemade jellies. They have four children: David, of New York; Daniel, of California; Sarah, of Pawlet, Vermont; and Seth, of Pennsylvania.
The Fellowship of Agricultural Adventurers has honored outstanding leaders in New England agriculture since 1953. A special committee, appointed by the trustees of Eastern States Exposition, selects its annual fellow on the basis of innovation, pioneering and lifetime dedication to the betterment of agriculture.