While the season seems to have started early, it hasn’t meant the sap is running every day. Nonetheless, days are getting warmer and more are making their way to maple sugar makers. In this area of the province there is a wealth of maple makers and there seems to be something for everyone. From trail walks, quick and convenient sales, pet friendly operations to private tours, Cumberland County’s maple industry is waking from its winter slumber and getting under way.
Every corner of the county can argue its long history in the profession but none are more noticeable than the Donkin, Ripley and Thompson-Bouchard sugar camps in Fenwick where cars will line up along Highway 2 just to satisfy the urge to get in the woods when maple is being made.
Of the three on the shared access road, it's the camp of Thompson-Bouchard family all come across first. Early warm temperatures saw foot traffic coming into the family run operation way ahead of schedule.
“Mother nature decides,” Eric Bouchard said. ‘They started coming in last weekend, but not like usual. It will get busy here, non-stop, with traffic on both sides of the road. It’s still early.”
The season, Bouchard, could be longer this year than previous years because of the early start, but it will always come down to nature to decide.
“You can go as long as you want as long as the buds on the trees don’t come out too hard,” Bouchard said. “Then the taste will change. It will be a different sugar… it will have a real wrong and strong taste to it.”
As the days aren’t filled with customers yet Bouchard, Stan Thompson and Keith Coates are working hard on inventory. Moving large bowls of boiled sap over large pots of hot water, the trio take turns holding on as another stirs the syrup into a frothy, sticky concoction of maple butter destined to be turned into the familiar maple leaf shaped treat. The work, Bouchard never ends when the season begins.
You need to be retired, he says, if you want to work this hard.
In Leamington, KD Hunter Maple Products take a different approach when it comes to the maple season. Operating in a more remote area, the Hunter family can date the family business back to the 1800s. Instead of bustling crowds on site, the family provide small, guided, pre-booked tours to groups from near and far while working equally as hard on inventory and building their brand. The Hunter family are a cornerstone of the local maple industry forover 100 years, but its been recent years that the family operation has started to grow beyond providing maple products for family and friends.
“In the last eight or nine years, we started expanding,” Drew said “Most of our products are bulk products. It’s less money, but less work at the same time. We bottle enough for the people around here who know us.”
Outside of bulk sales, Drew’s partner Keagan Coolen has built retail partnerships and takes the brand to area farmer’s markets while finding new marketplaces to settle in without imposing on the gains local producers are making themselves. The industry, Coolen says, is still emerging as an international exporter and its possible for all operators to work in a way that allows the industry to thrive together instead of competing with one another. Establishing brands now, Coolen said, will position local producers for growth.
“If you can get the right deal you can sell your syrup all at once through a foreign market and be done with it,” Collen said. “And that would be ideal.”
Instead of offering regular hours, the Hunters offer small, pre-booked tours to interested parties. Groups from as far away as Germany have enjoyed the one-on-one tours where their questions can be answered without interruption.
Because of the exclusivity, the Hunters use social media to their advantage with a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kdhuntermapleproducts, and an Instagram account at www.instagram.com/kdhuntermaple.