We purchase maple syrup directly from Maple Valley Cooperative. Formed in 2007, Maple Valley Co-op is predominantly owned by the fifteen syrup producers–farmers in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, and Vermont, as well as one partner-member on the East Coast. (They also have members who are customers, investors, and employees.) The co-op’s mission is “To produce and market organic maple products through fair and sustainable methods, respecting producers (farmers), customers, investors, employees, the land, and our communities.”
The organic standards of the co-op require that no chemicals are sprayed in the forests (on trees or on weeds and roadways) and that a buffer is maintained between maple trees and non-organic fields; that no chemicals (such as defoamer or animal fat) are added during the syrup-making process; that forest health is considered, for example, by not overtapping trees or logging forests and damaging the ecosystem; and that equipment and facilities are cleaned properly, without chemicals.
In the springtime, when the days are warm but nights are cool, maple trees send sap up to the leaves during the day and back to the roots at night. During this time, the farmers drill holes in the trees and insert a tap to remove some of this sap. Most of the farmers use a series of pipes to collect and transport the sap into a stainless steel collection tank, although some of the Amish farmers still use buckets. The harvest is entirely dependent on the weather; forming a co-op guarantees some stability, as different producers produce more or less sap each year.
Every farm has a “sugar shack” (or shares one with a neighbor) where the maple sap is boiled down into syrup in a large evaporator. The farmers walk, truck, or pump the sap to the shack. Many of the farms use a reverse osmosis filter to separate water out of the sap, which shortens the time needed for evaporation. When evaporating, the farmer aims for a sugar content of 66 percent.
The syrup is filtered and sent to one of the co-op’s commercial kitchen facilities. It is inspected, filtered, and tested. Then the artisan bottler blends the different syrups to attain the desired color and flavor before bottling.
Meet some of the Maple Valley Co-op farmers in this video: https://vimeo.com/141189998
Visit them online at http://www.maplevalleysyrup.coop/.