Staff writer Kay Neufeld taps her first maple tree at Black Acres Farm in Wilton Friday, March 25. Neufeld was led through the maple-syrup making process by Russell Black, Franklin County’s state senator and owner of the farm. Photo courtesy of Russell Black

WILTON — I’m embarrassed to say this – because I might destroy my reputation as a trusty reporter for this local paper – but until this last month, I’d never tapped a maple tree; I’d never made maple syrup before.

Over my year and a half in Maine, I’ve made it my mission to take on any and all adventures that will give me at least an inkling of the credibility needed to ensure I am doing my best to get to know the Franklin County community.

State Sen. Russell Black, owner of Black Acres Farm, offered to help keep my reputation intact. He invited me to his land to tap some of the 1,000 maple trees he has going this season across 600 acres.

As I drove up Black Acre Farm’s long driveway Friday, March 25, I quickly noticed blue tubes connecting tree to tree.

Truthfully, Dear Reader, I imagined a tree tapping set up – large scale or small – simply as buckets hanging off of a tree. It feels like I’ve played into a bit of a stereotype – that Mainer traditions are all old fashioned. I apologize, in advance, for the ignorance.

I pulled up to Black’s sap house, played fetch with Jack the dog for five minutes and on we went to tap some trees.


I felt like a bit of an imposition, having the owner of a maple farm giving me a grand tour and demonstration just days before the big Maine Maple Sunday, held March 27.

Black assured me he was delighted to show me the ropes.

As I’ve iterated in many other versions of this column, I was warmed by the kindness and generosity Black showed me — which I’ve seen in many Mainers.

And after all, I’ve learned over time that Mainers do love explaining things, especially the region’s local traditions.

We approached a tree right next to the sap house and Black showed me how to drill into the tree.

I know that tapping trees is an age old practice in Maine. It still felt a bit odd, drilling a hole into a living being that has been around much longer than me.


When I visited some Maine Maple Sunday open houses a few days later, my friend Desirèe Marzan made the same comment. Perhaps, she suggested, we should chat with the trees while we do it, ask permission, thank them for their offering.

I retroactively, telepathically communicated my gratitude to the tree in question.

To lessen these concerns Black explained after the season’s over and the taps are removed, the hole begins to heal over. He pointed out a few that had healed and I felt a bit more at ease.

They heal like a human’s cut scabs over, I reasoned.

He did point out, however, “you can’t hurt a tree by taking too much sap, but you can hurt it with too many holes.”

After a quick demonstration, Black handed the drill over to me. I’ll (again, unfortunately) admit I had only learned how to properly drill holes after I first moved to Maine in 2020. My confidence wavered ever so slightly when Black placed the power tool in my hands.


But I strode onward and did a mighty fine job in my humble opinion.

The stereotype did in fact come true and we hung a bucket on the tap, watching the sap quickly drip out.

It’s been a good maple syrup season, Black told me. The weather has been cooperating.

It’s been just cold enough at night for the sap to move up the tree and freeze, he explained. And just warm enough in the day for the sap to thaw and drip back down.

Russell Black, owner of Black Acre Farms in Wilton, shows off some samplings of his maple syrup Friday, March 25. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

Black then gave me a tour of his sap house.

The week prior, I had the opportunity to boil some sap to syrup with other friends in town.


There, we just used a wood stove and some pans in a small shack on a family friend’s property in New Sharon. We skimmed the foam ourselves, doled over cups of the sap to another pan and watched it turn to a delicious brown.

All the while, we made pancakes on a portable stove in front of the sap house.

Black’s set up was hardly that pared down or relaxed.

“Everyone’s sap house is different,” Black said.

Large, chrome-plated machines filled his sap house. It looked more like a sap factory to me.

Black did start making syrup the old fashioned way, though.


He fondly recalled when he first started tapping trees 60 years ago, making syrup on his mother’s stove.

Even so, his current set up was quite high tech. There was a reverse osmosis machine and a ginormous, high-tech evaporator.

Black explained the ins and outs. Like most Mainer’s I’ve met, Black left out no detail. And it was much appreciated, though I had to ask him to repeat himself quite a few times.

Truthfully, the science went straight over my head. But the machines were cool to look at – wicked shiny.

At the end of the tour, Black let me taste some maple syrup made that morning. It was, of course, delicious. There was a hint of caramel in the flavor. It was light, but still flavorful.

Far better than any wholesale product I’ve bought.


I asked Black why wholesale, factory-made syrup was not as good as local batches.

Ever the politician, Black remained tight lipped.

“You came to that conclusion on your own,” he laughed. “You picked that up on the street somewhere.”

I think the thing that’s astonished me most in this process is that the maple farmers are hardly in it for a big, easy profit. It’s hard work and expensive.

Black said the tree tapping started “just as a hobby.”

“When I was doing it as a hobby, every year it cost me more money,” he said. He’d put in $2,000 in one year and only make $2,000 back.


“We decided we needed to get the point where we needed to pay for a little bit of our time,” Black explained.

He began expanding his tapping system about 20 years ago, and it’s grown more and more each year. At this point, Black has 1,000 trees tapped although that’s only a quarter of all the trees on his property.

It’s also hard work, especially if you’re not doing it full time. Black works as a state senator in Augusta then heads to the woods in the evening to check his taps with some help from his sons.

But it seems to be the love of maple syrup season that keeps them going.

Every year, Black said he looks forward to taking his grand kids and tapping the big maple tree behind the sap house.

“I do it because I love it,” explained David Leavitt, owner of Long Drive Acres Maple Farm in Wilton.


We come home from our normal jobs and work on the syrup, he said.

I noticed that in all of the folks making syrup this season.

My friends were simply making syrup because they had fun with the process. No money was involved. The product would become gifts and stores for future pancake breakfasts.

Seth Webber of New Vineyard scoops out cotton candy for Brandon Bard of Farmington to bag at Long Drive Acres Maple Farm in Wilton on Sunday, March 27. The maple farm held an open house for Maine Maple Sunday, where owner David Leavitt’s family members including Webber and Bard helped run the sap house. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

The other thing that stuck with me was how family oriented the local businesses are. Both Leavitt and Black run their sap houses with help only from family members.

Black said he relies mostly on his son, James Black, for help tapping trees and doing checks throughout the season. And James, himself, has a full-time job as the principal of Mt. Blue Middle School.

At Long Drive Acres Maple Farm’s Maple Sunday open house, every person there was related to Leavitt in some way. Sons and daughters, son-in-laws and daughter-in-laws, cousins, grandkids, and nieces.

“Everybody shows up and helps out,” Leavitt said. “If there’s nothing else in life, it’s family that’s most important.”

I’d love to have my own little sap house going next year – run the show, on my own. I don’t have any blood family in Maine to help me out. But I do have my found family. And I’ll certain be sounding the call for help.

I know this experience doesn’t make me a proper Mainer of any sort. When it comes down to it, my grandparents weren’t born here. But if it’s up for grabs, I’ll gladly claim the title of new Mainer. I think I’m on my way to earning it, at least.

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