A Sure Sign of Spring in New York State
Maple Syrup production is largely restricted to the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. This is the natural range of sugar and black maple, the two most commonly tapped species. Silver and red maple sap is higher in water content and provides a poorer quality end product.
There is little doubt that the Iroquois and other woodland Indians knew about the maple sap. There are several legends of just how they discovered this sweet, an important seasonal addition to their diet. As they lacked metal tools prior to European contact, their means of collection and refining maple sap were crude.
The European settlers gradually improved upon Indian methods of collecting and refining sap in many ways. These evolved into "traditional" ways of producing syrup that were pretty standard for perhaps a century or more. Only in the latter half of the 20th century did most producers go "hi-tech" in production methods that are commonly used today. However, some small producers and museums still produce small amounts of syrup using largely pre-mechanized methods. This is largely for the benefit of tourists and visitors, placing the methods of production in historical context.
Maple Producers and Festivals in New York State
New York State is the second leading producer of maple syrup, second only to Vermont. According to statistics from the New York State Maple Producers Association, about 1500 producers statewide, with nearly 1.5 million taps made 332,000 gallons of syrup in 2008. The average cost per gallon of finished syrup was $33.50 in 2007. The final value of the crop was about $7.5 million, with an impact of $30 million on the New York State economy.
According the published statistics in the Utica Observer-Dispatch of March 18, 2009, maple syrup production in selected counties was as follows in 2005:
Oneida County: 32 producers with 2,100 gallons of syrup.
Herkimer County: 19 producers with 1,400 gallons of syrup.
Lewis County: 141 producers with 30,000 gallons of syrup.
Many small maple sugar producers have in recent years had small scale maple festivals at this time of year. Producers and historical museums often sponsor special events and demonstrations. The Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown has Sugaring Off Sundays, with breakfast (pancakes and maple syrup, of course) and maple syrup production demonstrations. The Herkimer Home outside Little Falls had its 34th annual maple celebration on the first weekend in April 2009. Other museums or producers have had such programs usually in late March and early April.
New York State Maple Producers Association.
What began in the late 1990s as a one day event promoting maple products by a small group of Wyoming County maple producers has evolved into a festival celebrated across New York State. This effort has been coordinated by the New York State Maple Producers Association. Over 100 large and small producers from over 40 counties participate on the last two weekends in March. Typically, there are pancake breakfasts, sales of syrup and candy, and demonstrations on past or current production methods. A list of participating producers is available from their web site listed in references below.
With this regional agricultural product, the maple industry in New York State is on the verge of expanding quite rapidly. Such coordination of an industry that is historically and commercially important is important to its success as an industry. If people in this area are committed to promoting tourism, whether to local residents or outside visitors, this is a model to be studied as largely successful in the general field of local agriculture.
There is discussion of local maple producers banding together even more and forming a cooperative in Northern New York for bottling and packaging of their maple products. This would provide the largely rural maple producers a more effective means of getting their products to market, as well as providing jobs to an area with limited employment.
The American Maple Museum
In Crohgan, New York (northeast of Lowville on State Route 812), this museum is one of the few maple oriented places that is open outside of maple sap season. The museum presents one of the largest collections of vintage equipment used in maple production over the years. They open Memorial Day to late June on Friday, Saturday and Monday, and daily except Sunday July 1 to around Labor Day. Their web site is a good source of information on all aspects of historical and current maple sap collection and processing.
The maple industry in New York State is on the verge of tremendous expansion. If such a cooperative comes into existence, it could expand the impact of maple sugar products on the local and regional agricultural economy. In any event, the maple sap season of late February to mid April is a seasonal activity which clearly marks the transition from winter to spring in the Upper Mohawk Country of New York State.
New York State Maple Producers Web Site, Maple Weekend http://www.mapleweekend.com/index.html
Utica Observer-Dispatch, March 18, 2009
Maple Museum, Croghan
Lawrence, James M., and Martin, Rux. Sweet Maple: Life, Lore & Recipes From the Sugarbush. Shelburne, Vermont: Chapters Publishing Ltd., 1993. Co published by Vermont Magazine, Montpelier, Vermont, 1993
DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: The Contributor has no connection to nor was paid by the brand or product described in this content.