It's that time of year in Ontario when sap flows down the lines and eventually into bottles for the maple syrup consumers wait and salivate over.
Mild conditions in February had local maple syrup producers tapping trees for sap significantly earlier than when tapping season usually begins, which is early to mid-March.
Oro-Medonte's Hutchinson Maple Syrup has its lines ready and the family that runs the production is raring to go.
Michele O’Sullivan explained what she and husband, Doug, and father-in-law, Orval, are looking for.
“You’re looking for minus-5 at night and a plus-5 in the day — that's the perfect temperature,” O’Sullivan said. “And sunshine, we need sunshine because it warms up the lines and gets the sap moving.”
Located north of Barrie, Hutchinson Maple Syrup is a family-owned and -operated farm on Line 5, where they have been since 2011.
There are 1,600 taps, with lines stretched over many acres, heading back toward the sugar shacks that package up the sweet, local flavour.
“My father-in-law, Orval, has been doing this since he was a wee boy — back then with horses and trailers and such,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s done this his whole life, with a few gaps in between when life got in the way.
"My husband and I bought the current property 12 years ago and it had a sugar shack on it," she added. "I always say that I think my husband was more excited about the sugar shack than he was about the new house and land!”
The old sugar shack did its job for many years, but eventually the Hutchinson farm needed another building and one was built two years ago.
The lines tapped into the trees on the property lead back to the building, which O’Sullivan said is a lot easier on her and her husband, both of whom have full-time jobs.
“Running around with headlamps on and gathering sap at 3 a.m. can get very tiring,” she admitted. “This is easier and allows the sap to flow to where we need it.”
There are more than 400 registered maple syrup producers in Ontario — and Simcoe County, with all its maple trees, is a popular spot for the production of liquid gold.
The Elmvale Maple Syrup Festival highlights the many different producers, as do the countless farmers markets every weekend.
O’Sullivan said that despite what some might consider competition, she and her family don’t see it that way.
“There is enough maple syrup to go around for everyone," she said. “We don’t feel it being competitive at all — it's more that everyone looks out for each other.
"Besides that, there are different flavours to each producer, so you might buy some of ours and still head to someone down the road who has a syrup tasting slightly different,” O’Sullivan added. “We sell out every year, so we have no reason to feel upset or ill-will toward anyone.”
O’Sullivan explained how it's produced based on the location of the trees as some of the reasons maple syrup farms have products that taste differently.
“The popular types are amber, dark and golden, which are named so by how the light comes through the syrup," she said. "We have an amber that has a buttery-vanilla flavour where the dark would have that stronger maple flavour."
With the amount of hours and hard work it takes to run a maple syrup farm, O’Sullivan explained why anyone would do it year after year.
“It's just because you love it," she said frankly. "We love talking about it and, to be honest, I don’t know how else to describe why we do it.
"It's a passion — we’re certainly not getting rich off it. We probably spend more than we make each year, but we enjoy all aspects of it from producing it to having people come out to see how it's made.”
For more information on Hutchinson Maple Syrup or to check out their products, click here.