REGION — The Maine Maple Producers Association partnered with the U.S. and Canada North American Maple Tour to promote an open sugar house weekend from Oct. 10-11.  The weekend was an attempt for syrup producers to recoup losses from this year’s canceled Maple Sunday, held the fourth Sunday in March, due to COVID-19.

At JB Farm in Chesterville, Tyler Jenness stood in front of an empty evaporator in his newly renovated sugar house explaining the process of boiling down sap.

“I thought about maybe we should throw a fire in, we could boil water and make some steam, but it’s different not having a whole tank of sap there and actually making it,” Jenness said as he reminisced about the sensations of early spring sugaring. “To me, as a kid, you remember the smell. During all of spring that smell is incorporated into that building, you can smell it even when it’s not running.” 

Tyler Jenness of JB Farm in Chesterville stands next to his evaporator in his sugar house where on a typical Maple Sunday in March, would be brimming with steam from heated sap. Jenness and his wife just started tapping trees last year and were hoping to attend fairs throughout the fall to advertise their new farm venture. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

This was JB Farm’s first maple event since Jenness and his wife started sugaring just last year. They had originally planned on kicking off the official opening of their farm store on Maple Sunday during which syrup producers often sell up to 50% of their product.

Instead, the couple stocked a pastry case full of homemade maple whoopie pies mixed with fall treats like apple handpies and pumpkin donuts with maple frosting and held their grand opening on Saturday, Oct. 10. Shelves of preserves lined one side of the room while freezers were stocked with JB Farm beef and poultry on the other side.

Jenness’ farm sales also depend on the three fairs that his family attends in Union, Farmington and Fryeburg. 

“The fairs are probably one of the biggest marketing places that you can go to, it’s meet and greet; many, many different people, so that’s where you lose out,” he said while standing behind an old-fashioned cash drawer till.

Maple producers often attend fairs and craft shows throughout the year as an outlet to sell surplus syrup and advertise the rest of their farms’ operations. For Jenness, the fairs this year would have been a way to raise awareness that his family’s livestock farm had expanded its operations to maple syrup.

“Now that the fairs have been canceled, that’s another substantial impact to the producers and at this point, we’re hoping we can get through the craft fair season without those being canceled,” President of Maine Maple Producers Association Scott Dunn said in a phone interview. “That would be another hit that producers go to annually. I don’t think any producer’s exempt from what’s being impacted.”

JB Farm in Chesterville held its grand opening of its farm store during Maine’s first fall maple weekend on Saturday, October 10. Tyler Jenness stands with some of his farm offerings, eggs, decorative corn, pickled dilly beans, blueberry preserves and maple syrup. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

While this past weekend was meant to cushion some of these losses, many maple producers throughout Franklin County and the Livermore area opted out of the Association’s organized event for various reasons.

James Black from Black Acres Farm in Wilton was busy preparing for a moose hunt with his father, Russell Black.

We were concerned a little bit with keeping social distancing and stuff like that, but I think we could’ve handled that,” James Black said in a phone interview. “But the big reason was the time factor and our hunt next week. It’s a once in a lifetime thing for him [Russell Black] so we’re putting our time into doing some scouting.” 

Black said that they saw an increase in farm sales throughout the summer with honey, meat and maple syrup moving off the shelves rapidly.

“I think everybody was concerned with the short supply of things, but I think people were also concerned about going into the larger stores and the spread there, for a while,” Black said. “We definitely saw a huge increase over the summer.” 

Irene Couture of Maple Valley Farm in Jay said they have not sold nearly as much syrup as in past years, but they are still managing to pay the bills. She and her husband opted out of participating in the fall maple weekend primarily because the timing conflicts with the busy season of their construction business.

“The other thing is we’re still really in COVID, and what you would have to do to comply with that too, it would be difficult,” Couture added in a phone interview. 

Maple Valley Farm is still selling syrup seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at their farm store located at 1304 Franklin Road, Jay. Customers can also reach the Coutures at (207) 645-2328.

Black Acres Farm has an honor system farm store located at 123 Black Road in Wilton. Customers can also call (207) 491-5443.

Tyler Jenness at JB Farm at 140 Stinchfield Hill Road in Chesterville said that they are still determining their farm store hours, but can be reached at (207) 399-7652.

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