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Maple sap crop attracts excitement on the farm

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SALEM — After a two-year break due to the pandemic, area maple producers are once again welcoming visitors to their sugarhouses. The Upper Hudson Maple Producers’ annual Maple Weekends kicked off Saturday with 20 producers in upstate New York and one in the Berkshires.

“We’ve had a good crowd so far,” said David Campbell, co-owner of Mapleland Farms in Salem.

Traditionally, Mapleland Farms has offered a pancake breakfast to visitors, but “we decided a few weeks ago not to do breakfast,” Campbell said. “COVID was still pretty strong and we were a little short of help.”

Instead, the farm has a maple snack bar with complementary drinks, plus the farm’s maple products shop and family-friendly tours.

Mapleland Farms started tapping the Monday after Christmas and boiled sap for the first time on Jan. 2, Campbell said.

“So far, we have half of a normal sap run,” he said, citing unseasonably warm weather due to climate change. “We’re hoping for more freezing nights next week. In a normal year, we should have two or three weeks of production still to go.”

The farm’s trucks were ferrying sap from collection tanks on the farm’s 596 acres to a bulk tank outside the sugarhouse. The next step is a reverse osmosis machine that removes some of the water and concentrates the sap’s sugar. That shortens the time and fuel needed to boil the sap down to syrup. Mary Jean Packer, the farm’s marketing manager, said Campbell usually boils in the afternoon to give the reverse osmosis machine time to work.

David and his brother Terry Campbell bought the maple operation 50 years ago from their grandfather, when they were 12 and 13 years old, Packer said. It’s now their full-time business.

Packer led two families on a short tour of a maple grove near the sugarhouse, on a hillside overlooking Cossayuna Lake. Blue and white plastic lines take sap from taps in the trees to collection tanks at the bottom of the slope. The farm maintains 60 miles of vacuum lines but keeps one old-fashioned galvanized bucket to show visitors how sap drips from the tap, she said.

The color and flavor of syrup changes through the season, from dark and strong to light and sweet. The season ends when the maple leaves start to unfurl. The flavor “gets really bad” at that point, Packer said.

Nora and John Pellegrino and their children Jack, Gabby, and Charlotte, from Saratoga Springs, were taking the tour for the first time.

“We’re really interested in showing the kids how maple syrup is made,” Nora Pellegrino said.

The children were intrigued by the bucket and the sap dripping from its tap, although they discovered the clear sap is almost flavorless. The maple cotton candy for sale back at the sugarhouse was more to their liking.

“It’s a weird time of year to bring in a crop,” Packer said, but because it’s the first harvest of the season, “our crop attracts a lot of excitement.”

Packer said she’s encouraged by how the community supports maple syrup producers.

“Everyone rallies behind Washington County being one of the biggest syrup producers,” she said.

That extends to Mapleland Farms’ neighbors who don’t complain about the noise of trucks and vacuum pumps, as well as the Village Cafe in Greenwich and Hicks Orchards in Granville, which provided maple blondies and maple sugar doughnuts for the snack bar. The county’s strong agricultural community helps maple producers with services such as equipment dealers and truck mechanics, she said.

The Upper Hudson Maple Producers’ Maple Weekend continues this Sunday and next Saturday and Sunday. Grottoli’s Maple in Middle Granville, Rathbun’s Sugar House Restaurant in Whitehall and Dry Brook Sugar House in Salem are serving pancake breakfasts.

For a complete list of participating producers, hours, special attractions and directions, visit http://www.upperhudsonmaple.com/. The self-guided tour is free. Producers will have maple products for sale. This is mud season, so wear appropriate footgear.

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