Spring is here! And for some farmers, that means it’s maple syrup season. Out in Wisconsin, our partners at Maple Valley Cooperative have begun the process that leads to the sweet nectar we enjoy on our pancakes and in our coffee and baked goods. For the co-op’s farmer-owners, the practice of harvesting sap and creating syrup is a way for them to connect to their families and the land as well as customers like us.
Even before the sap begins the runs, the farmers are out in their sugarbushes (which is what stands of maple trees are called), repairing the plastic lines that run from the trees to the tanks where the sap is gathered. Farmer and co-op co-founder Cecil Wright says that this is his favorite part of the process, “I love being in my woods when the snow is knee deep and the owls hoot during the daytime.”
The farmers have their taps in place by February in preparation for when rising temperatures cause the sap to run in March and April. Farmer Eric Meyers enjoys sharing the collection process with his family, “All of my children have grown up stomping around in the snowy woods with me, sometimes on my back in a pack and sometimes in a sled. Everyone looks forward to when the sap starts to run. As a family we like to taste the first sap and then the first syrup.”
Maple sap is clear and watery with only a 2% sugar content, so it needs to be rendered to create the thick, sweet syrup we enjoy. The sap is boiled in an evaporator, heated to a temperature of 219 degrees. One of the co-op’s Amish farmers explains, “We don’t have electricity for boiling; we must burn wood. It requires a lot of preparation. We must have 200 pallets of wood chopped and ready for the season.”
After rendering, the syrup is filtered, cooled and prepared for bottling. It is tested for flavor and graded by color. Amber syrup is lighter, comes earlier in the season, and is popular for baking and as a topping. Dark syrup comes later and is often used to sweeten coffee and as part of the Master Cleanse detox fast.
Maple Valley Co-op syrup is all certified organic, which means they abide to strict guidelines about how they harvest the sap and steward the sugarbush. There are rules to encourage tree diversity and limit the number of taps per tree, and farmers must have a plan in place for the regeneration of the forest and the wildlife that lives there.
Co-founder Wright says, “I got into organic farming because during high school and college I did forestry work where I sprayed 24D and 245T on trees to kill them so other trees could live. Then, the news came out after the Vietnam War that soldiers were getting cancer and becoming very sick from a substance that was used as forest defoliator called Agent Orange. Agent Orange is made up of 24D and 245T. I knew then that I had to take care of myself and our earth if I was going to be healthy.”
For creative ways to use maple syrup in your cooking, check out Maple Valley Co-op’s Recipe of the Week Series.
Date: Wednesday March 20, 2019
Category: Producer Stories
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