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Maple Weekends canceled for second straight year

The trees are tapped and the sap is starting to flow.

Unfortunately, as a precaution due to potential risks from COVID-19, the 2021 statewide Maple Weekends scheduled for March 20-21 as well as March 27-28 have been canceled for the second straight year by the New York State Maple Producers Association.

“They [the Maple Weekends] are typically our busiest weekends,” said Steve and Jenny Savage of Peaceful Valley Maple Farms in Johnstown. “It was a huge loss for us last year.”

Bruce Frasier of Frasier’s Sugar Shack in St. Johnsville agreed.

“This is two years in a row now they have shut it right down just before we have it,” he said. “It hurts because, for me alone, I lose probably $3,000 to $4,000 worth of sales because nobody comes in. Obviously, I sell throughout the year but it is not like people showing up. That’s when they buy a lot of the odd stuff like the candies and creams; things other than syrup. It definitely hurts. I also heard they are talking about possibly doing it later this year. But by then people are out and about and starting to go to the lake and stuff like that.”

Mud Road Sugar House in Ephratah was fortunate enough to have a small boil this week, but having the popular event canceled will again hurt their business.

“It [the Maple Weekend] is very important because it gets the general public out so they can see first hand all the work that actually goes into making maple syrup,” Vern Duesler III of Mud Road Sugar House, said. “With us that is usually about 25 to 35 percent of our profit comes during maple weekends. A lot of product is moved. People have had enough of cabin fever and they are itching to get out of the house and do something.”

Even though the weekends have been canceled, the sugar houses are still active producing their sweet products.

Peaceful Valley has about 18,500 taps and in a good season yields about 6,000 to 7,000 gallons of syrup, while Frasier’s Sugar Shack taps about 4,500 trees and produces 950 gallons of syrup and Mud Road Sugar House tapped about 3,500 trees this year.

“I think it is going to be an old-fashioned sugaring season this year,” Duesler said. “We didn’t get a January thaw and the trees have been cold for a good long period of time. They may freeze themselves solid and for the sap to run they need to build up internal pressure. There is a lot to it that people don’t realize. DJ [his son] has pretty much taken over getting things ready to tap and does probably 99 percent of the boiling.”

With the pandemic restricting visitation to the sugar houses, the owners have explored different ways to get their products to families.

Peaceful Valley has a restaurant on site that has stayed open with take-out service available for its customers.

“Restaurant and store sales are lower than usual but the restaurant seems to be picking up a bit,” Savage said. “We will not need to cut back on tapping or boiling. We may just need to find other markets to sell syrup. We are in the final stages of launching our new website with an online store.”

Farmer’s Markets, fair and festivals are also a popular way that the sugar houses get their products out to customers after the boiling season has ended.

“Getting your name out there is important,” Frasier said. “I usually do the violet festival every year up in Dolgeville but it was canceled last year and probably will be this year, too. That’s another big sale day for us, plus all the people you meet. Who knows if they are going to allow the fairs and parades this year. Farmer’s markets were shut down last year and they are just starting to come back, plus you have the protocols where you can’t do samples or anything.”

Mud Road has had a website available for the past few years, but Duesler said it is not the same as being in touch with people.

Just talking to people [at the fairs and festivals] is a huge part of the business,” he said. “D.J. makes sure [during the past open houses] he gets people around the evaporator and explains the who boiling process. Usually I am in another part of the building running the filter and explaining that. We have had a website for the better part of three years and we did do more online sales this year due to the COVID-19. We did get calls from people who normally get out to the sugar house in the spring time. When they called, we made arrangements to get out to the sugar house so they could get their syrup.”

As the days get warmer, the local maple syrup producers said they are looking at the possibility of opening their doors in some way in the coming weeks for people to see the process and make purchases and ask customers to check their websites and Facebook pages for updates of future events.

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