From hobbyists to Cornell scientists, New York’s maple syrup is making the grade.
FARMINGTON — Walter and Vance Kannapel, a father-and-son duo making maple syrup at their sugar shack in Farmington, started boiling sap from sugar maples around their cabin in the Adirondacks some three decades ago.
These days, their sugar shack is at the Kannapel home on Rushmore Road. They boil sap from a forest of sugar maples on the property into syrup, which they share mainly with family and friends.
“It’s a small operation,” Vance said about the production, which uses a wood-fired stove to boil sap from about 350 trees.
From small-scale hobbyists such as the Kannapels to producers who use the latest technology and tap thousands of trees, the maple syrup industry in New York state is thriving. In 2017, New York state maple producers made over 750,000 gallons of maple syrup, making New York the second-largest maple-producing state.
Over at Cornell University — with its multitude of experts, scientists and students of agriculture, food science, natural resources and such — maple production shines.
Just ask Stephen Childs, Cornell's Sugar Maple Program director. A New York state maple specialist, Childs provides producers statewide with education and resources. Think sustainable forest, sugar bush management, sap collection and processing technology, product quality improvement and grading, and value-added product development. Research involves sap tubing collection and vacuum system design, and improving the quality and marketing of maple syrup and related products, along with tap sanitation and evaluation of maple syrup grading tools.
Despite a rather rocky season weather-wise — ”up and down, with cold and warm,” remarked Vance — Childs noted the “long-range forecast looks great for syrup production in much of the state.”
Many producers statewide are preparing for the annual Maple Weekends that this year fall on March 17-18 and March 24-25. That’s when the public is invited in to see the making of maple syrup and in most cases enjoy tastings and special activities, as well.
In the science arena, Childs mentioned a number of developments now available to producers such as a technology that allows producers to tap earlier — enabling them to catch the sap runs during January without losing out on late March or April sap runs when the tap holes might have otherwise dried up.
“The Cornell Maple Program has a number of research projects in place,” Childs said.
Research is taking place at the Arnot Teaching and Research Forest, just south of Ithaca, and the Uihlein Maple Research and Education Center in Lake Placid in the Adirondacks.
“We’re analyzing time of tapping, tap hole sanitation, use of 3/16 tubing, sugar bush thinning, the influence of sap oxygen on maple flavor, production of alcohol and vinegar from maple sap, development of a maple-based energy drink and the impact of excluding white-tailed deer for maple and oak regeneration,” Childs said.
He explained how Cornell students, researchers and, in some cases, those in business are collaborating on projects to boost the state’s maple industry on all fronts — even dealing with those pesky deer who find sugar maples as sweet as people do.
“Whitetail deer are removing maple trees," Childs said. "They love little maples and little oaks."
So Cornell is experimenting with what researchers call a “slash wall.” It’s a deer barrier made from logging debris and low-value trees by pushing, piling and laying “slash” into solid, continuous windrows. Slash walls can surround sections of forest to protect young, vulnerable sugar maples — at least until the trees grow big and tall enough to withstand the deer.
Now back to why people are nuts about maple syrup: It tastes great, and as far at sweeteners go, it could be considered health food. Pure and unrefined, it contains a bunch of vitamins and minerals.
For more information on New York’s maple industry and upcoming Maples Weekends, visit https://mapleweekend.nysmaple.com/.
Sweet times at the farm
Maple Weekend, which is March 17-18 and March 24-25, is sponsored by the New York State Maple Producers Association. During Maple Weekend, maple farms will welcome visitors to their farms to educate people first-hand about how maple syrup and other related products are made. Many farms also have pancake breakfasts and other tastings throughout the weekend as well.
The following activities are among those planned:
Cumming Nature Center, 6472 Gulick Road, Naples: Pancake breakfasts and open houses. The breakfasts — with pure maple syrup — are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 17-18 and 24-25, followed by an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Participants will walk on Cumming trails, learn how a tree makes sap and learn the processing techniques used to turn sap into syrup. Admission: $11 ($9 for children). Details: 585-374-6160
Kettle Ridge Farm, 515 Log Cabin Road, Victor: Pancake breakfasts and open house. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 17-18 and 24-25, visit to farm to taste fresh maple syrup and pancake samples, and tour the sugarhouse and farm. Every hour a group will depart for a hike through the maple stand, including stops at the shiitake mushroom log yard, honeybee apiary and the chicken coop. (Bring hiking boots.) Details: 585-683-7506, 585-217-7108
Schoff's Sugar Shack, 1064 Willis Hill Road, Victor: Open houses all four days, plus pancake breakfast March 25 at Thirsty Turtle. Open houses are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Details: 585-924-3769
Stoney Ridge, 625 County Road 28, Farmington: Pancake breakfasts and open houses. The all-you-can-eat breakfasts are from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with open houses from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. all four days. Sugar house tours include an explanation of the sap-to-syrup process, history of making syrup, and the Stoney Ridge farm history. Kids may drill and hammer a tap in a tree with assistance in a demo area. The sugar house tour includes cooking demos with samples and tasting different grades of syrup. Also: A petting zoo, monster truck and 4WD tractor on display from Barnyard Boggers. Details: 585-733-0814
Wohlschlegel's Naples Maple Farm, 8064 Coates Road, Naples: Pancake breakfasts and open houses. Breakfasts will be served from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 17-18 anf 24-25. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., walk through the woods to see the sap-gathering process and tour the sugarhouse where the magic of making maple syrup happens. Breakfast: $3-$7. Tours and woods walks: Free. Details: 585-775-7770
SOURCE: Finger Lakes Visitors Connection