When the Sugar Shack is Closed
Eryn Hughes, Outreach Coordinator at the East End Food Co-op
On a trip last winter to rural Buffalo, I had the opportunity to visit a local maple syrup farm and observe the various machines and processes that work together to reduce the sap into syrup. I was in awe at the scale of sap it takes to make a gallon of syrup! As we walked around, we noticed it was a bit like a ghost town - no customers milling around the snow-covered hills despite the weather being mild. As we entered the main barn and sales room, we realized there wasn’t any staff on site either. Gallons of sap were left unattended, none of the boiling machines turned on yet. Being February, I thought we would see the farm in full-production, and I was disappointed to think that the trees had not produced enough. Considering this a learning opportunity, I interviewed a few maple syrup farmers who supply the Co-op in order to get the skinny on how the changing weather systems may affect product availability to consumers like myself.
First, I got acquainted with the process of harvesting maple sap and then how the sap is made into syrup. In most cases, it can take anywhere from 30-50 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of syrup. As the sap is boiled down, it becomes the natural sweetener we all like to pour on pancakes or waffles. Once the sugar content is concentrated, it goes through a complex series of chemical reactions that create the unique maple syrup color and flavor. Sap is transformed into syrup when it reaches a temperature of 104° C (219.2° F).  I was surprised to learn that my favorite sweetener also has numerous beneficial qualities like Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium. Maple syrup is also high in antioxidants.
The farmers I spoke with agreed that the weather systems can impact their production, while it was further clear that Northern latitudes with an extended winter season and thus, more freeze/thaw cycles, had increased trees’ sap production. When asked whether they expected a shortage of product or increase in prices, they asserted that although the production period was not yet known, but they didn’t expect a big change in prices. Further North, it remains cool enough at night for Maple trees to continue to produce sap. Closer to us, the milder, shorter 2011-2012 winter affected up to 60% smaller crops. Despite this challenge, farmers are able to plan accordingly and focus on other crops which benefit from the earlier warm temperatures. So, it sounds like there will definitely be enough Maple Syrup to go around and we all know a bit more about how changing weather systems impact our food.
Thanks to Bruce Roblee, Adirondack Maple Farms and Dan Neale from Citadelle, Maple Syrup Producer Cooperative their contributions in this article. Please feel free to respond to this article with any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org