Promoting Healthy Maple Forests

Final Report for FNC02-434

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2002: $9,545.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $6,904.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Project Background

Spirit Lake Maple Sugar is owned and operated by Bruce and Tawny Savage. They own 80 acres of mature sugar maples on the Fond du Lac Reservation. On the average about 1500-1700 taps are put out every year for the last 5 years. This project was developed by Mr. and Mrs. Savage with the help of, University of Minnesota, graduate student, Mr. Michael Lopez. The Savage family has been sugaring through many generations. Maple sugaring and other traditional Ojibwe harvesting has been a big part of sustainable agriculture for the Savage family.

Project Description and Results

Goal: To provide education to producers about how to promote healthy maple sugar stands and assist in overcoming barriers in accessing equipment.


In the Fall 2002, we utilized Mr. Lopez and the research he did as part of his Graduate Thesis to meet with producers to begin a dialog about maple sugaring and raising awareness about exotic pests. Invites were extended for the seminar that was planned for March 2003.

Seminar and Education/Offering Equipment “Healthy Maple Sugaring Kits”
This seminar involved community members in the local area. We opened the seminar with a feast in which there was also a princess pageant to celebrate maple sugar as a traditional and sustainable food. Feasting a harvest is a traditional way to begin to bring people together and have comfortable and natural conversation about food, in this case, maple sugar. Building a rapport with community members was important when it came to evaluating the current maple sap farming practices. We offered tapping equipment to those interested but it was often difficult for local producers to commit to using them for the next season. Also the healthy taps were different from those that local small scale producers were used to using. Change does not happen over night but with continued support, discussion and encouragement, change can occur. Even after the first year it seemed that the local producers were more confident about coming out to our farm to learn more about sugaring techniques. Therefore, we had a misconception that providing supplies would ensure that people used them.

Networking and Building in Cultural Relevance

Throughout 2002-2004 different opportunities gave us a chance to continue to network and raise awareness about taking care of maple sugar stands. For instance, we were invited to take The Gitigaan Growers Group on a tour of our maple sugar from as part of on of their weekly meetings. A video about how we spot the Asian Long Horn Beetle was shared. Maple syrup was used in the preparation of the food to exemplify the diverse use in recipes and flavor. Some of the members had experience sugaring and had interest in helping in the spring harvest. There were also two separate classes of students from the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College Ojibwe Language Class and Business class that were introduced to sugaring and ways that we used our sustainable farming practices to build a small business. In the summer of 2004 we were invited to speak about our farm at a National Natural Resources Conservation Services Conference in New York.

Maintenance at Spirit Lake Maple Sugar Farm

There was more work than expected to make Spirit Lake Maple Sugar Farm a model for healthy forest management. The process we chose to begin this was by clearing deadfall on about 40 acres. This process took longer than expected. Also, maintenance of other sugar stands was difficult to coordinate. More time with foresters and loggers will need to be utilized in order to follow this through. It was very time consuming to coordinate these experts to consult and plan with, about thinning to promote healthier maple trees at our farm. Aerial photographs and topographical maps provided by the Fond du Lac Natural Resources department helped in planning. Sharing this learning experience with other producers has helped lead into tapping techniques. The seminar planned for December 2-4, 2004 will include hands on lectures and field experience. Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler, forerunners in the field of maple sap ladders and setting up a tubing system, will offer there expertise and knowledge to again further the learning experience for those wanting to know about sugaring. The field work will be dine on Spirit Lake Maple Sugar Farm as a way to help teach others from the ground up how to set up a tubing system utilizing healthy taps.


Dave Wise, Natural Resources Conservation Services Fond du Lac Tribal and Community Liason, assisted in networking with the Find du lac Tribal College and Gitigaan Growers Group.

Michael Lopez, University of Minnesota graduate student, utilized his research to teach about threats to the maple sugar trees and gave us a video from the USDA about the Asian Long Horn Beetle to share with people.

Nathan Reinhold, Fond du Lac Natural Resources, offered maps of the farm and helped with planning the seminar scheduled for December 2-4, 2004 at the Black Bear Hotel/Casino.

Iwyawbance Mushkoob, small scale producer, helped with labor on the farm and to begin learning about how sugar using healthy tapping techniques.

Jim Northrup Jr., small scale producer, helped with labor on the farm and discussed ways to cost share by using our equipment to make his syrup.

Jennifer Johnson, Fond du Lac Ojibwe school teacher, helped focus efforts and discussion about healthy maple sugar forests with students from the High School and Elementary School. They sugar every year and are planning on coordinating with our farm more often.

Mike Ammesmaki, small scale producer and laborer, helped carry out the labor in the forest, also took part in the seminars.

Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler, Wheeler Maple Sugar Farm Ottawa Ontario, Canada, offered to teach others about how to sugar using the latest technology and build a tubing system.


Through the interviews done with local small scale producers information gathered about
1) their experience in sugaring
2) knowledge about exotic pest
3) ways they take care of their forests
4) whether they were interested in learning more

Through the interviews they definitely had experience in making syrup as a sustainable farming practice and had stories about generational maple sugaring. The interviewees stated that they had heard about the Asian Long Horn Beetle but did not know the extent to which it was found and how quickly it can devastate the maple trees. Most of the interviewees did not have private property that they would consider their farm and willing to make an investment in improving. All the producers were interested in learning more and some did make it to the Seminar in 2002. However, out of the 20 participants one producer utilized equipment that was offered through this grant. This producer finished syrup on nearby Tribal land which had been used as a sugarbush for the community for many years. Firewood for his sugarbush was part of the work he did when he helped clear the 40 acres on our property. This producer provided approximately 60 in kind hours toward the grant.

In kind hours donated were used as indicators that there was a social impact. In kind hours were a big part of following through with objectives in the grant. A few interested community members and many professional donated in kind hours, thus showing a positive affect on ways this project impacted others socially. As we begin to get referrals from tribal leaders and other program directors, it was evident that the education component was achieved.


Next time it will be important to allow more time for work clearing sugarbushes and even contract with people who can carry this out. Our time was stretched too thin and we over estimated producer participation. The grant could have easily rolled into another two years to complete the work with other producers and in the sugarbushes. The two years could be about awareness and providing a forum for discussion and learning among producers and interested folks. The next two years could be about focusing on a couple sugarbushes of those that are willing to tale a leadership role in coordinating maintenance efforts.


Information about the seminars was done through flyers, postings on the Minnesota Indian listserv, calling departments that might be interested and submitting information about the seminars to the local newspaper. Education was given through tours of Spirit Lake Maple Sugar Farm, short 12 minute video and PowerPoint presentations. We also made sure to invite anyone interested in learning more to participate in out Farm’s spring sap harvest.

The seminar in March 2002 there were about 20 participants which were a mixture of professionals from Fond du Lac Natural Resources, Forestry and maple sugar producers. There were also students from the community center they attended. Throughout the two years there were about three producers that donated in kind hours and were willing to learn more about tapping techniques and forest management. One producer utilized supplies offered though the grant. Visits to other maple sugar farms was a big part of our own education about what other commercial sugar farms are doing to take care of their trees and forest. (Fiddeldy Maple Syrup-Grand Rapids Minnesota, Mark and Melinda Spindler’s Sugarbush Maple Hill Grand Marais, Minnesota, Roth Maple Sugar Farm, Wisconsin, Anderson Maple Syrup Cumberland, Wisconsin, Wild Country Maple Syrup Lutsen, Minnesota, Maple Hollow near Wausau, Wisconsin and Goodrich Maple Syrup in Cabott, Vermont) Most of our time learning and traveling was in kind contribution and helped in networking with large scale commercial producers. This was not a specific goal of the grant but once the learning process started it was natural to continue with the networking among these producers.

Plans to further communicate the need to learn how to care for trees and forests will be done at this final seminar at the Black Bear Hotel on December 2-4, 2004. WDIO news channel was invited to cover this event. There is also a speaker from the Inter-tribal Ag Program scheduled to give information to producers about other support through federal programs specifically for Native American producers. PowerPoint presentation will be delivered along with information about ARE and grant results. Supplies or “kits” will be offered again to those that are interested.

Program Evaluation

Everything was great, that site visit was timely and your representative was prepared and willing to walk the property to get a good idea about the work being done. This is great to see since much of the work is in the field.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.