March has become more than just the month when sap starts to flow from maple trees for many in New York state.
For producers, agriculture advocates and those who enjoy maple products, March is a time to celebrate syrup.
On two consecutive weekends this month, the New York State Maple Producers Association will again sponsor Maple Weekend - a family event where anyone interested in maple syrup can learn about the sweetener from their local producers.
OBSERVER Photos by Steven Yunghans
Douglas Fairbanks of Fairbanks Maple in Forestville has been making syrup for 45 years.
Set for March 21 and 22 and again March 28 and 29, the 2009 Maple Weekend events will involve 110 maple producers throughout the state - with a total of 42 Western New York producers participating.
Begun as Maple Sunday in Wyoming County, the one-day event became so successful that the idea spread to other producers and is now promoted by the New York State Maple Producers Association.
"It's grown to become a huge success across the state,'' said Maple Weekend Chairman and Co-Founder Greg Zimpfer of the event. "Thousands of people are already checking the Web sites for this year's dates. And I'm getting calls from people wanting to know when that delicious brown nectar will be ready.''
March 21-22 and March 28-29
Maple Glen Sugar House, 2266 Gowanda Zoar Rd, Gowanda
Web site: www.mapleglensyrup.com. Phone: 532-5483. Email: email@example.com
Big Tree Maple, 2040 Holly Lane, Lakewood,
Web site: www.bigtreemaple.com. Phone: 763-5917. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fairbanks Maple, 1968 Shaw Road, Forestville Phone: 965-4208
Gustafson's Maple Country USA, 2507 Quaint Rd, Falconer
Web site: www.nysmaple.com/nysmaple_pages/maple_country_usa/. Phone: 665-6373
Gage's Maple Syrup, 9214 Cottage Rd., South Dayton Phone: 988-3414. Email: email@example.com.
Essentially a coordinated open house event, Maple Weekend features producers opening their sites to show the interested how maple syrup is made. Described as a delight for visitors of all ages, Maple Weekend events are free to attend and run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
Participating producers show how sap is boiled into syrup and many demonstrate the making of other maple products. Those products and other dishes, such as pancakes, are typically available for visitors to purchase. Similarly, many of the sugarhouses provide entertainment, such as carriage rides, to entice people into visiting their sites.
"Pretty much since they began having Maple Weekend, we've been a part of it,'' said Lloyd Munsee, who owns Big Tree Maple in Lakewood with his son, David. "Maple Weekend has grown every year and we are seeing a bigger and bigger turnout.''
For the first Maple Weekend, Big Tree Maple will be collaborating with the Chautauqua County 4H Foundation to put on a pancake and sausage breakfast at the sugarhouse. Dubbed "Pancakes Under The Bigtop,'' the benefit breakfast will happen under a tent at the Lakewood location regardless of the weather. Money raised from the sale of breakfast items will go to benefit the 4H. The pancake breakfast will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first Maple Weekend only.
Founded by the Munsees in 1993, Big Tree Maple has grown from 40 to more than 800 taps. Approximately half the taps are handled by the old-fashioned method of using buckets to catch sap flow, while the other half uses tubing to transport sap from the tree to a collection tank. On average, it takes the sap from four taps an entire season to make one gallon of pure maple syrup.
According to the Munsees, making maple syrup is a slow, labor-intensive process which requires evaporating about 40 gallons of sap in order to produce one gallon of syrup. The maple syrup season begins in late February in our area and continues until early April. During that time, the combination of freezing nights and warm days causes the sap to flow from the maple trees.
Online at their Web site, www.BigTreeMaple.com, the Munsees explain that they put much emphasis on producing a high-quality product.
"It's just a great time for families to come out and enjoy an outside activity,'' Munsee said. "It happens in the rain, snow or sunshine, and it frequently does all of those this time of year. Folks should not be afraid of the weather, but should dress for the weather and come out for a day of maple syrup and fun.''
Big Tree Maple is located at 2040 Holly Lane in Lakewood and can be reached by calling 763-5917 for both the coming Maple Weekends.
More than just syrup, maple sap provides a basic ingredient for such products as maple cream, maple sugar, maple coffee, maple tea, maple jelly, maple mustard, maple suckers, maple butter, maple cotton candy, maple apple butter, maple walnut fudge, maple peanuts and maple mousse.
MAPLE AS TRADITION
Douglas Fairbanks has been in the maple syrup business for close to 12 years now, but his experience making the sweetener goes back decades.
"I really started about 45 years ago, but I quit for a few years and now I'm back at it,'' Fairbanks said of the business, which he owns with his wife, Linda. "That long ago, everybody made a little syrup as part of farming. The thing of it is, once you get the bug, you don't get rid of it. It's like a disease. It's just something that we love to do.''
At Fairbanks Maple in Forestville, the Douglas and Linda make between 1,200 to 1,300 gallons of syrup a year - a great deal more syrup than they ever used to make in the old days.
For both the coming Maple Weekends, Fairbanks said the business will offer horse rides and other entertainment.
"We live on kind of a muddy dirt road and are always surprised by how many people will come up to see us,'' Fairbanks said. "They have a good time and it's always very fun.''
Fairbanks Maple is located at 1968 Shaw Road in Forestville and can be reached by calling 965-4208.
MAPLE AS EDUCATION
For George Gustafson, Maple Weekend is not about selling product.
"It's an educational tool,'' Gustafson said of Maple Weekend. "It's not something that was started to make a lot of money. The idea behind it is to educate people about maple.''
A Maple Weekend participant for 12 of its 14 years, Gustafson co-owns the business Maple Country USA in Falconer with Gary Peterson. Though Gustafson has been in the business for 23 years and making maple syrup for 35 years, he continues to learn about the sweetener each March.
"We used to kind of treat it like a road rally,'' Gustafson said. "We would go to as many as we could go to, to see how everybody else was doing things. Everybody does it a little differently. Some of us do it with wood. Some of us do it with gas and some with oil and some with high-tech equipment. Ours is an old-fashioned operation. We use wood because we think that's the best way and makes for a better syrup in our opinion.''
For each of the coming Maple Weekends, Gustafson said he and Peterson will be demonstrating how syrup is made - from the tapping of the tree and the boiling process to some of the other tricks of the trade they have learned along the way. Additionally, people will be able to purchase everything from syrup and maple candy to pancakes, sausage and maple-cooked hot dogs.
"We try to have a limit on the prices so that a family can spend something reasonable, no matter how many they have in their group,'' Gustafson said. "It's grown every year that we've done it, so now we're to the point where we've added wagon rides with teams of horses to keep people entertained. It's a free event with the exception of the food itself or whatever they might want to purchase.''
Gustafson's Maple Country USA is located at 2507 Quaint Rd. in Falconer and can be reached by calling 665-6373.
The 1.48 million taps of 1,500 maple producers in New York were responsible for 332,000 gallons of syrup in 2008 - an increase of 44 percent from 2007. Only Vermont, with 500,000 gallons, produced more maple syrup than New York, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The second largest maple-producing state in America, New York accounted for 20 percent of the total syrup in the United States in 2008, as reported by the New York Maple Producers Association. The economic impact of maple production in New York State was an estimated $30 million in 2007.
Locally, the number of maple farms in Chautauqua County decreased between 2002 and 2007, according to the 2007 Agriculture Census released in February. According to those numbers, Chautauqua County now has 52 maple farms, down from 58 in 2002. In 2007, Chautauqua County produced 6,254 gallons of syrup, down from 8,771 gallons in 2002.
One of the state's larger maple-producing counties, Chautauqua County is second to such counties as Cattaraugus County, which has 65 maple farms, and Lewis County, which has 112 maple farms.
The final value of the state's 2007 crop, which was down because of poor weather, has been estimated at $7.5 million. The crop value for 2008 will be released in June.
For more about Maple Weekend or maple syrup, visit the Maple Weekend Web site at www.MapleWeekend.com.