Valley Bounty: Maple Syrup

During the deep days of winter, JP Welch trudged through snow drifts, chainsaw in hand, felling beech and hemlock trees. JP produces maple syrup on Justamere Tree Farm, which he owns with his partner Marian. As he explained during a recent conversation, clearing out old, rotting trees is essential to creating space for maple saplings in the forest’s understory to thrive in future years. JP and the team hauled the logs back to the sugarhouse for splitting and stacking in preparation for the long-burning fire that would boil thousands of gallons of sap into maple syrup once sugaring season hits.

The beginning of the sugaring season is a stressful time for JP. “It’s nerve-wracking because all your equipment has to work, and you haven’t used it in 10 months,” JP told me. Maple syrup runs exclusively during the golden early-spring window when the days are warm but the nights still dip below freezing. With a season that is typically measured in weeks, not months, the stakes are high to gather as much sap as possible before the trees begin to bud. One evening in the height of a previous season, JP’s reverse osmosis machine, a high-pressured filter that concentrates the sap before it’s ready to boil, broke down. “I had to leave in the middle of the night to drive up to Northern Vermont to the place that had the part. I was there when they opened their doors in the morning.” JP high-tailed it back south, put the machine back together, and was “back in business that night.”

With the mild days and cool nights we’ve seen over the last few weeks, the sap is running strong for JP and farmers across western Massachusetts. Before we know it, spring will be here and JP and Marian will trade the rush of the boil for the more relaxed job of whipping up maple cream and candies in their maple kitchen. Of course, JP enjoys the quintessential syrup on pancakes breakfast, but he also loves to see the many creative ways that people use maple products year-round. He calls maple syrup “the healthiest sweetener in the world” and suggests trying it in your next coffee, latte, or mixed in with your hot cocoa.

Valley Bounty is written by Noah Baustin of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)