Long before European settlers arrived in the land known as Mishigamaa, natives were flavoring their food with the sweet sap of maple trees.
Today, Michigan ranks 5th in maple syrup production in the United States, averaging about 90,000 gallons per year.
In fact, according to the Michigan Maple Syrup Association, the pure maple syrup industry has an economic impact of nearly $2.5 million annually in Michigan.
There are an estimated 500 commercial maple syrup producers in the state and nearly 2,000 hobby or home use producers. Yet, surprisingly only about 1 percent of Michigan’s maple forest resource is used in syrup production. That may be one reason why maple syrup is one of the few agricultural products in which demand exceeds supply.
Don’t run out and tap a maple in your yard just yet though. Not every tree is a potential source. Each needs to be about 40 years old and have a diameter of 10 inches before tapping is recommended. Second, if you’re thinking it’s a potential source of revenue, it’s worth noting that Michigan law requires processors of maple syrup to be licensed, though the Cottage Food Law has made the possibility more realistic.
Nonetheless, just because you may not be eager to make your own syrup doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of maple magic to enjoy this time of year.
The Michigan Maple Syrup Association is planning three weekends of celebrations with more than 25 sugar makers participating in the festivities.
Because it tends to be warmer earlier downstate, events are first held in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula (south of US10), March 15-16, followed by events in the upper half of the Lower Peninsula (north of US10), March 22-23 and throughout the Upper Peninsula, March 29-30.
These family-friendly events being held around the state are a great time to get out and take a close look at how maple sap is collected, boiled down, and turned into sweet maple syrup and other maple treats.
Kids may be surprised to discover that maple sap is a colorless liquid or that maple sap becomes maple syrup when boiled to 219 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 7 degrees above the boiling point of water.
“For many people it is a chance for them to experience firsthand where their food comes from and the work and expense that goes into bringing a crop to market,” says Joe Woods, event coordinator. “For the producer it is a chance to meet new customers, educate consumers, and display the workings of a sugar bush. Together this brings awareness of the maple syrup industry to the public.”
Visitors to a local farm will have a chance to meet the farmers and their families. Many of the farms will offer tours of their operation including tree tapping demonstrations, samples of their products, and recipes for the use of maple syrup. Naturally, there will be plenty of maple goodness to buy and take home too.
Keep in mind as you venture out that it’s a slushy time of year in Michigan, so you may want to dress casually and wear some boots. Mud and snow are bound to be along for the ride. Take a camera along too and share your love of pure Michigan maple products on social media.
For more information on participating locations visit www.mi-maple.com.
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