while i have been talking with beth and tim for quite some time about visiting erehwon farm, it wasn’t until this past friday that we were able to make it happen. with the forecasted milder days and sub-freezing nights beth mentioned that they had tapped the farm’s maple trees and planned to spend the week sugar mapling, or making maple syrup. as with any process dictated by weather, the window can be brief and the harvest unpredictable. as it turned out, night time temperatures on wednesday and thursday soared well above the freezing mark and by morning on friday it looked as though the sap had stopped running. but the dozens of buckets hanging from the farm’s maples were still full and, as i arrived, tim was boiling down a previous day’s harvest over a fire. i took a brief farm tour with jeremiah before tagging along with a small group of third graders to listen to tim explain the process and install a new tap (which was “dry”). i wandered around hoping to find a tap that was still dripping as the kids teamed up to dump the smaller sap-filled buckets into larger metal buckets. but i soon found myself laughing along with the kids and darting from tree to tree as an active part of my local food community. after collecting all of the sap, the kids returned the three metal buckets to a small table near the fire where tim enlisted assistants to help strain the clear sugar water that had just been just collected. after running it through a small kitchen colander twice (to get the ants out) we all got to taste the liquid. the flavor was mild (compared to maple syrup) and slightly sweet, like a woody sugar water. then came the finished syrup samples. delicious no doubt, but less maple-y and more caramel-y than i had expected. last fall erehwon moved to its current location, a new plot of land with an old farm house, some additional structures and a whole bunch of maple trees. so, like any good farm, they decided to make use of the resources at hand, drill a few holes and let gravity bestow upon them a sugary delight. i will admit that i wandered off during much of the explanation of the process – but only because there were so many images to capture and only periodic sun – and so missed out on some of the story. what i do know is that this is the first attempt at making maple syrup for erehwon. what i don’t know is the specific variety of maple tree that is being used. i know that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup and that the sap only runs under the right weather conditions. i do not know how long it takes to boil off the right amount of water, or what the right amount of water is. in talking to beth at the market the following morning i found out that there is a special piece of equipment that measures for the proper sugar levels and that erehwon does not yet have that capability. but this is only one small aspect of what they do. the farm is aggressively planting greens and onions to supply its csa members and market customers. i will be sure to focus on that aspect of the farm in a future post but i felt that the process of sugar mapling hit upon two hugely important aspects of local farms. the first is the local farm’s desire to experiment, be it with new varieties, new techniques, or new processes altogether. and the second is the desire to educate. all of the farms that i have visited have what basically amounts to an open-door policy. they are always eager to have vistors and tell not only their personal story, but also that of the local food movement. it’s a small community but it grows every single day as kids and adults alike are invited to participate in the process. and it is these two often overlooked points that will continue to drive the local food culture.
alimental prologuephotographer justin b. paris explores the farms and practices of the growers that help make up the geneva green market (geneva, il). from marengo to west chicago, this microcosm of the local food movement shares its land, animals, vegetables, homes, and time to educate the public through justin's eyes and words.
- all content © justin b. paris 2010-2011
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