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Maple Weekends canceled again

Quebec offers new consumer program to save its maple industry

Cornell University’s Uihlein Maple Research Forest Director Adam Wild watches over maple sap boiling in an evaporator in March 2020. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — New York Maple Weekends — featuring facility tours and special events the third and fourth weekends of March — have been canceled for the second year in a row due to the coronavirus pandemic.

New York State Maple Producers Association Executive Director Helen Thomas wrote a letter on the association’s website making the announcement.

“We know that many people throughout New York State love to visit our member maple producers during the traditional Maple Weekend celebrations in March,” Thomas wrote. “This year, however, the risks presented by COVID-19 are making that tradition one that we all have to think about more carefully.”

Thomas said the board of directors had been actively monitoring the official pandemic information and made the decision unanimously.

“That being said,” she wrote, “we do understand that certain local maple producers may have physical facilities that can safely operate with drive-through, online ordering for take-out, limited-capacity safe accommodation of socially-distanced customers, etc. Likely there is a maple producer with these accommodations near you who will be open for these sorts of visits.”

Cornell University’s Uihlein Maple Research Forest on Bear Cub Lane in Lake Placid has a self-service maple syrup cabinet outside the sugarhouse. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Visit online at https://mapleweekend.nysmaple.com/ for more information.

Maple producers in the Olympic Region that typically take part in Maple Weekends are Cornell University’s Uihlein Maple Research Forest in Lake Placid and Black Rooster Maple in Keene. Both have roadside stands at their properties that sell maple products.

In 2020, maple production in the state was down slightly compared to 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service. New York’s maple production decreased from 820,000 gallons in 2019 to 804,000 gallons in 2020. It remains the second in the nation with regard to maple production.

Vermont is first, as usual, increasing its maple production from 2.07 million gallons in 2019 to 2.22 million gallons in 2020. Maine is the third-largest maple producing state, having increased production from 520,000 gallons in 2019 to 590,000 gallons in 2020.

Canadian maple

By far the biggest maple-producing region in the world is the Canadian province of Quebec, which borders New York to the north. Like in the U.S., COVID-19 forced Quebec maple producers to cancel their in-person visits and other activities in 2020, according to Statistics Canada. They turned to online and telephone sales instead.

“Quebec producers, who account for almost three-quarters of global maple syrup production and 90% of Canadian production, harvested 13.2 million gallons in 2020, up 9.8% from 2019,” states the Statistics Canada website. “Higher yields, due to favourable spring weather and more taps, accounted for the higher production.”

Production fell in Canada’s other provinces in 2020: New Brunswick (-6.2% to 560.9 thousand gallons), Ontario (-6.9% to 467.4 thousand gallons) and Nova Scotia (-20.7% to 55.5 thousand gallons).

Saving Quebec’s industry

The pandemic has hit Quebec’s maple industry hard, with 40 sugar shacks closing over the past year, according to Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. Therefore, producers in late February launched a new program to save their sugar season tradition: “Ma cabane a la maison”“My shack at home.”

Residents can choose from about 70 sugar shacks and have that sugar shack experience brought to their own doorsteps.

“Our goal is to save the tradition so that next year we can gather once again for great times together. Our sugar shacks are teetering on the brink. If we do nothing, 75% of them may soon disappear forever,” said Stephanie Laurin, chair of the Association des salles de reception et erablieres du Quebec (ASEQC) and co-owner of Chalet des Erables.

On the website, https://www.macabanealamaison.com/, Quebecers can order “home sweet home” kits. Menus are made up of 90% local products and feature maple ham, pork and beans, oreilles de crisse, puffy omelettes and maple syrup dumplings. There are also vegetarian, vegan, pork-free, and gluten-free options.

The website is partially funded by the Quebec government.

Sugar shacks in Quebec usually generate more than $300 million in economic impacts, not including tourism.

During the pandemic, health restrictions have led to a drop in sales of more than 90%, according to data obtained from its members by ASEQC.

“The current slowdown affects more than 6,000 workers and an entire ecosystem of food industry suppliers and distributors who depend on sugar shacks,” the press release states.

Ma cabane a la maison could infuse $10 million into the economy of rural Quebec communities for its eight-week run.