I was part of the original group of farmers that submitted the NCR-SARE grant in 2004. After the old cooperative (Upper Mississippi Maple Cooperative) was dissolved and a new one (Organic Maple Cooperative) was formed, I picked up the leadership of working with several local maple producers to finish out the educational programming that we had planned with our original SARE grant. I have 15 acres of maple woods and the other farmers involved with this grant have 500 acres of maple trees.
I started in 2000 as an organic farmer with Kings Hill Farm in Mineral Point, Wisconsin doing crop rotation and other techniques to maximize yield without using pesticides. In 2004, I started my own organic vegetable farm and developed sustainable forestry practices for my woods and became an organic maple syrup producer. I learned what cleaning practices for organic maple syrup production I needed as well as how many taps per tree and type of taps to use.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
• To do the educational component for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture grant that was received by Upper Mississippi Maple Cooperative and transferred to the new Organic Maple Cooperative
• To merge the cooperatives and recruit members to be a part of the Organic Maple Cooperative
• To create peer-to-peer learning experiences in organic maple farming/production
Process: I knew that we had interest in added value products for organic maple syrup based on market study done for Upper Mississippi Maple Cooperative with Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. Their original SARE grant laid out the need to offer educational programs. I met with members of Organic Maple Cooperative to decide which areas we were interested in pursuing. We determined that there is a large resource of maple trees in this area that are not being tapped because folks did not understand the science and art behind making maple syrup and specifically organic maple syrup. We knew that farmers tend to learn first hand and the more people with knowledge the easier it is to expand production in this area. For many years now the demand for organic maple syrup has out stripped the supply and will continue this way for some time.
Cecil Wright, local maple producer, helped with formation of the Organic Maple Cooperative and helped with sharing processing of maple syrup. William Collins, local maple producer, helped with volume purchases for small scaled producers. Joel Boutin was an instructor for December workshops on “Developing a Healthy Maple Forest” and “How to Make Good Maple Syrup”. Mr. Boutin was from the Quebec Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and was familiar with organic standards for maple syrup production. Stephen Childs, New York State Maple Extension Specialist from Cornell University, taught two workshops in August on “Making Quality Maple Creams” and “Developing Other Value Added Confections”. Michel Labbe was an organic maple producer from Quebec who sells maple confections and syrup from his farm. He helped with the August workshops. Leah Miller, director of Small Farm Institute, helped with the programming and organizing of the grant activities after Mark Kastel (UMMC paid consultant) left. Linda Conyers, a staff person with Organic Maple Cooperative, worked with the setting of the facilities. Candace Murphy was a local Cashton resident interested in learning how to make candy.
Due to the number of outreach sessions we have sponsored, my coop members and I are constantly giving advice to farmer(s) that own woods to help them evaluate them for potential maple syrup production. Our members of the Cooperative have been asked to help other organizations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York with their expertise too. The Organic Maple Cooperative decided to open a retail store in Cashton and sell cooperative members’ products. Several individuals have started to work on making value-added confections for on-farm sales. In general, we have increased our presence to a level locally and nationally that folks know who we are and what we are trying to do.
I learned many new things about preparing my woods for maple production season and how to cook my sap to make a better quality of syrup. This has helped my 2008 production season with a better quality of syrup and hopefully, the things I learned about a healthy maple forest will help the future sap production of my forest. We added new equipment that made us more efficient and nearly tripled our production from previous years. Other cooperative members gained knowledge about their production practices as well as way to improve their forests. Many of our other producers experienced significant increases this year also. This combined with much higher prices made for a very successful year. The biggest barrier was the start and stop of the Upper Mississippi Maple Cooperative and trying to figure out what our options were.
The advantage of this project was the core group committed to making the new organic cooperative into a working group. The disadvantage was the need to find committed producers interested in organic maple syrup production and added value. There were individuals interested in producing organic added-value products but they were not maple syrup producers so that was a new opportunity. Our advice to other producers trying to implement projects like this would be to not worry about reaching large numbers of producers with your program but actually get a dedicated interest group that really learns what they need to learn so they can pass on the knowledge to others.
I used a mailing list of maple syrup producers from the region to invite to the four workshops. News releases were prepared and sent to the regional newspapers and other media sources. There were 11 people attending the August Maple Cream workshop and 10 people attended the August Developing Added-Value Confections. The December workshop on Developing a Healthy Maple Forest had three people due to the weather being -11 degrees for the workshop outside. The How to Make Good Maple Syrup had 5 people. We sponsored a booth at the Kickapoo Country Fair, a sustainable fair held by Organic Valley. There were approximately 7,000 consumers and farmers who attended. We have continued to talk to new farmers interested in maple production. I have walked different woods to help them decide whether they have the woods for developing into an organic maple syrup production system. Our cooperative now gets many calls to buy organic maple syrup and we give out advice to others looking for a sustainable price for their syrup.