PRINCE EDWARD COUNTYóThe first ever Maple Syrup Festival in Prince Edward County brought sweet success to the producers who participated in the event from March 16 to 17.
Initiated by the Economic Development Department of Prince Edward County, the Maple Syrup Festival included six maple producers, several bed and breakfast operators, tourist resorts and dining facilities who conducted cooking classes, and gave an overview of maple syrup production from pioneer evaporation to turbo oil-fired evaporators. It was highlighted by additional activities to draw in visitors, such as The Shantymenís Concert at Mount Tabor Playhouse in Milford, historic displays and activities at the Ameliasburgh Historical Society and Town Hall, and an art show with a maple theme at the Waring House and Picton Harbour Inn.
"It was an overwhelming response. We had about 2000 people that came from the immediate local area, extended local and from far away," said organizer Honey King, the festivalís project manager hired by the Economic Development Department.
King said there were some visitors from Switzerland and Poland who were probably already in the area, but others came from as far as Toronto, Oshawa and Kingston, Ontario. Not only were the producers happy with the numbers of visitors and their sales, but there were spin-off effects for local accommodations and dining facilities. "The Waring House Inn was 65 per cent full and The Shantymenís Concert was sold out three days in advance," she said.
"We had no idea of the numbers that would come," said Gloria Stone, co-owner of Stoneís Maple Products, a 22-acre operation with 750 taps north of Picton at 644 County Road. "We had a lot of kids, younger families and empty nesters, about 300 people on Saturday. We had a quieter day on Sunday with the pancake houses drawing people."
A couple from Kitchener who were already planning to visit Prince Edward County spotted the festival on the web, and rearranged their vacation accordingly, stopping at Stoneís Maple Products. "The couple enjoyed the opportunity to drive through the countryside, and to pick and choose what they wished to see and didnít wish to see," she added.
The Stones drew additional visitors through a display of vintage tractors from a group of friends who belong to her husband Dougís antique tractor club, and they used their own tractor to give people tours of the bush. Doug had the evaporator going in the sap shanty, explaining the process of evaporation as the sap boiled down in three large pans, and there were samples for visitors.
"People understood things so much more when they can see the processes this way," said she continued. "It was such a nice chance to explain the process to people and educate them. Maple syrup is a real tradition of spring, itís a Canadian tradition."
Cliff and Margaret Foster, owners of Fosterholm Farms, located at 2234 County Road 18, between County Roads 12 and 11 served 575 visitors pancakes on Saturday and Sunday and held guided tours with the help of a neighbour and a grandson. This was the first time they served pancakes and had the largest-ever turnout of visitors over one weekend. "We were very pleased not only with the pancakes, but with the maple syrup sales. And thatís the name of the game," said Margaret Foster.
In 1925 the Foster family started with a 65-acre bush and 200 to 300 taps, and with additional farm purchases and leases they have now expanded to 1100 acres with 7,000 taps. In addition to selling maple syrup, they make and retail maple candy and butter as well as maple syrup, in addition to running a market garden and dairy farm. As one of the first operators in Ontario to purchase an energy-efficient turbo oil-fired evaporator with a tube pan, and with new reverse osmosis equipment purchased last year, the Fosters can boast state-of-the-art equipment.
The Sprigings conducted horse drawn wagon and tractor rides through their 10-acre maple sugar bush on a 250-acre farm. Located north-east of Wellington at 1036 Gilead Road, the bush has 750 taps on pipelines, and 50 on buckets within carrying distance of a sap shanty. The operation has earned the "Seal Quality Producer" designation while remaining a "big hobby" for the owners. "Our main income is dairy," said Barry Sprigings.
"We basically opened things up. While people waited for wagon rides, they looked at sheep which we parked in front of the barn. One ewe had just had lambs that morning. We had pony rides for the kids when they were waiting and horse drawn hay rides back in the bush. We explained the maple processes, and how it works," he said. "People didnít know how it works, and they were amazed at the amount of boiling and the amount of work it takes to do it."
Sprigings was also happy with a turnout of close to 500 people for the tours.
"Everyone wanted to buy and we were sold out of maple candies," he said.
In view of this success, the producers interviewed said they would definitely participate next year.
A March 28 meeting was set to discuss plans for another festival next year with the Economic Development Department, King and the producers .