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Ceremonial first tap done, local syrup producers wait for weather to cooperate

Local syrup producer Dale Martin flips a pancake at the ceremonial first tap event hosted by the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association and the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival at George Martin’s sugar bush just south of Heidelberg on Feb. 27. [Scott Barber / The Observer]

During the coldest February on record, there was little hope producers would be getting an early jump on maple syrup season.

Local syrup producer Dale Martin flips a pancake at the ceremonial first tap event hosted by the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association and the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival at George Martin’s sugar bush just south of Heidelberg on Feb. 27. [Scott Barber / The Observer]
Local syrup producer Dale Martin flips a pancake at the ceremonial first tap event hosted by the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association and the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival at George Martin’s sugar bush just south of Heidelberg on Feb. 27. [Scott Barber / The Observer]
But that didn’t stop organizers of the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, officials with the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association and local politicians from gathering near Heidelberg February 27 for the ceremonial first tap.

Asked at the event about how this syrup season was shaping up, OMSPA vice president Terry Hoover joked, “are you kidding me? It’s freezing out here!”

Hoover, of Hoover’s Maple Syrup in Atwood, like all syrup producers across the province, is waiting for temperatures to get up to seasonal levels.

With February’s record-breaking cold – the average of minus-14.8 was the coldest ever recorded – and the complete lack of above freezing temperatures, the season will come later than usual this year.

But once the freeze-thaw cycle begins – with temperatures roughly plus-five Celsius during the day and minus-five overnight – producers will be ready to go.

“If there’s one positive to the late start it’s that everyone will be extra prepared,” OMSPA president Ray Bonenberg said. “It takes quite a bit of work to get set up for the season, and this time around, there is no excuse not to be in tip-top shape.”

Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz, Regional Chair Ken Seiling and maple syrup historian Albert Martin helped Hoover and Bonenberg with the ceremonial tapping on a large maple on George Martin’s farm on Lobsinger Line, just south of Heidelberg.

Just like last year, Seiling led his speech with a joke about running low on syrup.

He also quipped on the importance of agriculture to the region’s economy.

“It’s great to be here again, and one of the things this event tells me is that we can stop rationing the last two bottles of syrup at home because the season is coming again. … The maple syrup industry is an important  part of the agricultural economy here in the region. Some people think that what drives the economy in the region is the high-tech industries and manufacturing, but the agriculture and farm economy is huge in this region and that’s why we are working so hard to preserve it.”

Once the sap starts to run, producers will look for warmer temperatures to hold off, since once the prolonged warmth comes, the trees begin to bud.

“Once the trees bud they start producing syrup with a different, almost buddy, earthy flavour,” Bonenberg explained. “It’s not off-putting, but that is generally when the season ends.”

The longer the season, the more syrup; the more syrup, the more money.

Though it’s certainly not just about money for local producers.

As Hoover joked, “as one lady put it, ‘maple syrup producing is like crack cocaine, once you start you can’t stop.’ It’s an addiction, some call it the sweets.”

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