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First tap a sign that spring is on the way

There was no sap flowing given the cold weather, but there was no end of enthusiasm at the ceremonial tree-tapping that opened maple syrup season in the area on Feb. 25.

The Maple Crisp farm, on the border between Woolwich and Wellesley townships, played host to local members of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association (OMSPA), the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival committee and a list of politicians that included Waterloo Region Chair Ken Seiling and MP Harold Albrecht.

Attending his first-ever tapping, recently-elected Woolwich Mayor Todd Cowan was given the honour of drilling the hole for the first tap.

GETTING STARTED Woolwich Mayor Todd Cowan prepares the first tap at Maple Crisp Farm Feb. 25 to mark the beginning of maple syrup season in the area.

“It’s a great event,” said Cowan, who plans to be out flipping pancakes in Elmira Apr. 2. “I want to work closer with the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. Last year I was in the Knights of Columbus tent, but this year I’ll be doing the flipping and the mayor’s breakfast.”

Cowan has been promoting the festival to other councilors in the region, some of whom have never been to the event.

“I am really pushing members like (Cambridge Mayor) Doug Craig to get themselves down here,” he said.

For Cowan, who is “tired of winter,” the first tap was a good indication spring is on its way, but for Ontario maple syrup producers, the long history of their livelihood means much more.

Doug Cassie, president of OMSPA, said more than $21 million comes into the province annually through maple syrup sales, but the sweet stuff is more than a money maker.

“We’ve seen a very good demand and it’s been growing in the last couple of years,” he said. “It’s a big part of our heritage: how can you put a price on that?”

The most challenging issue producers face is the changing climate. Farmers typically look for temperature swings from high to low to get the sap flowing, although Cassie said playing the weather guessing-game is not an exact science. What one producer thinks is good weather, may be less than ideal for another.

“We have no control over the weather, and the weather dictates when the sap is going to flow, how much is going to flow and the quality of the sap,” he said.

Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Leeanna Pendergast was excited to learn more about the local maple syrup season during her fourth tree-tapping event.

“This year is the coldest it’s ever been for me, but it’s good weather for (the syrup producers)” said Pendergast. “It’s a lot of science, including trial and error. It’s a complicated season.”

Hot packed into glass bottles at 180 degrees Celsius, fresh Ontario maple syrup should last about a year in a sealed container. Perfect for enjoying year-round on favourite treats, like the pancakes served to attendees after Pendergast hung the first bucket.

The EMSF will celebrate the season in five weeks, and is expected to bring about 70,000 visitors to Elmira for the day.

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