Editorial: How sweet it is

Daily Hampshire Gazette
Sunday, March 17, 2013

With the growing popularity of farmers markets and locally grown produce in recent years, it seems the term “buy local” is on everyone’s lips these days. For the state’s 350-some maple producers, though, the concept is old hat.

After all, a good many of them were selling syrup made from the sugar maples on their land to neighbors, friends and other community members long before the “buy-local” term was coined.

Indeed, dairy farmers have been supplementing their incomes by tapping their maple trees since the 17th century.

While many businesses, here and elsewhere, are still feeling the pinch of the economic downturn, the maple sugar business seems to be thriving.

According to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, the state’s sugarers produce about 50,000 gallons of syrup each year — worth more than $2 million — and most of it is sold within the state, so that farmer and the consumer share the wealth.

Now, with the proliferation of sugar shack restaurants throughout the Northeast, maple sugar producers are seeing even more profits from their liquid gold.

During the sugaring season, which tends to run from mid-February until late March or early April, the “shacks” — really down-home, family-style restaurants — including many throughout our region, draw crowds of local folks and out-of-towners. Crowds gather to sit down for pancakes or French toast topped with syrup often produced from the maple trees just outside the door.

The income from these seasonal eateries now equals or surpasses what sugarers make in maple syrup sales, doubling their profits.

Sugar shacks’ benefits extend beyond the breakfast table.

The eateries have become community gathering places where families, friends and townspeople share news and views while passing the maple syrup.

The shacks also bringing visitors during a time of the year that attracts fewer tourists, a boon for other businesses — farms, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, inns and retailers.

By capitalizing on their annual product, maple sugarers are helping all of us weather these continuing tight fiscal times. As Mary Poppins would say, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”