Whether a hobby or a business, making maple syrup is a passion for any number of farms and individuals in Lincoln County, and celebrating Maine Maple Sunday is a beloved tradition that, 40 years after its inception, continues to build.
Maine Maple Sunday is an annual event celebrating Maine’s maple syrup industry. Since 1983 sugar shacks around the state have opened their doors to the public with demonstrations of how the sweet syrup is made. Maine Maple Sunday is always celebrated on the fourth Sunday in March, although some sugarhouses offer events over the entire weekend.
A March 24 newsletter from the office of U.S. Sen. Angus King celebrated the unanimous passage of a resolution to recognize the 40th anniversary of the event and “the importance of Maine maple syrup production to the state’s economy and culture.”
According to the newsletter, Maine has more than 520 maple syrup producers with an annual syrup output of 575,000 gallons valued at $21.6 million. The state is the nation’s third-largest producer of maple syrup, and accounts for 17% of all U.S. produced maple syrup.
At Goranson Farm in Dresden, Rob Goranson marked 45 years of boiling sap, his experience even predating the formation of the annual event.
Production was down, with 1,100 trees tapped as opposed to 1,800 last year, according to Goranson who owns the farm with wife, Jan.
He said he hopes to end up boiling 200 gallons and was at 151 gallons by the day of the event. He was hopeful that the prior day’s snow and lower temperatures might extend the season just a bit more.
“A storm like this is helpful,” he said. “It will cool the trees down.”
According to Goranson, the pressure differential created by the contrast of cold and warm days could mean more sap.
Many visitors cited a trip to Goranson Farm on Maine Maple Sunday, March 26 as a family tradition. Activities included sugar shack tours, and clambering around on the farm’s huge tractors. Splashable mud puddles, a sure sign of spring in Maine, were an added attraction, particularly for the younger visitors.
Goranson Farm featured an expanded farm market with fresh vegetables. There were several guest vendors on hand, like Dan Towle, of Vesper Bread in Freedom, who baked huge loaves of a cracked sourdough wheat bread flavored with maple syrup, and Robin Chase, of Chase Farm Bakery in Whitefield, who used an automatic doughnut maker to offer hot doughnuts dipped in maple icing. At times the line to get the freshly made donuts exceeded 100 people.
At Sweetwoods Farm in Newcastle, English springer spaniel Jazz led fascinated visitors along the lines of blue tubing and into the sugar bush for her fifth year. Jazz has been a part of the annual event at Sweetwoods since she was a pup.
Farm owners Jill and Justin Wood greeted visitors on both Saturday and Sunday, March 25-26, with maple goods for sale and a variety of sweets to sample. Edgecomb’s Blue Tin Farm was also on hand with a variety of all-natural goat milk products to add to agritourism offerings.
New to the Sweetwoods lineup this year was chaga-infused syrup. More commonly used in teas like spiced chai, chaga is a fungus that has become known for its antioxidant properties, according to Jill Wood. The Sweetwoods syrup is bottled with a chunk of chaga so it continues to steep.
Maple cotton candy was a bestseller, though Jill Wood said they had to prepare it and package it in advance because they found that when using the machine outdoors the fluffy spun sugar did not cooperate in windy conditions.
Sweetwoods tapped more than 2,700 trees this year, with 60 gallons of raw sap producing a single gallon of the amber syrup, according to Justin Wood. With a new boiler system, he said the farm can produce about 2,000 gallons in three hours.
“We really can process some sap fast,” Justin Wood said.
The 200-acre Marcoux Family Farm in Wiscasset boiled over 60 gallons of syrup to sell during its second year of participation in Maine Maple Sunday, with Chris and Bonnie Marcoux already making plans to expand their capacity next year.
“It’s been phenomenal, a really good weekend,” said Bonnie Marcoux, as she offered guest samples of homemade maple whoopee pies. “We’re running out of things.”
After checking figures, Chris Marcoux, a retired Navy veteran who also leads hunting and fishing trips for veterans, active service members, and first responders, said the farm doubled its attendance from last year, with cars now lining the road. The Marcoux family is even adding on a 24-foot-by-30-foot post-and-beam kitchen in anticipation of tapping 1,500-plus trees next year, a significant increase over this season’s 600.
Chris Marcoux said that after a trip to Goranson Farm with his son several years ago he was inspired to tap 10 trees in the front yard. That number soon grew to 25, then 100.
Now he has a state-of-the-art high vacuum system that pumps sap uphill and the 600 gallon reverse osmosis unit he plans to install once the addition is complete.
“This is still a hobby,” he said.
Goranson syrup can be found at its farm stand in Dresden, as well as at area farmers markets, including the Bath Farmers Market.
Sweetwoods maple products can be found at Pinkham’s Market and Eventide Specialties in Boothbay Harbor and at Woodsong Market in Edgecomb.
Marcoux Maine Maple, the maple production branch of Marcoux Family Farms, sells its products at the Wiscasset Farmers Market as well as during events at SeaLyon Farm in Alna.