Garry Gallinger and his daughter Sherri sample real maple syrup compared to artificial table syrup.
Despite being surrounded by 1,000’s of bears, 10 brave Eastern Ontario maple producers never wavered from test testing pure maple syrup against artificial table syrup and offering up samples of granulated maple sugar. The bears were on all sides of the display area and ranged in size, age, and even… colour. It was the 34th annual Governor General’s Teddy Bear Picnic hosted at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario, one of two official residences of the Governor General of Canada. The event is hosted annually by the CHEO Foundation (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) as a way to say thank you to the community for the annual support and fund raising they receive through raffles, a telethon, and various cyclist/running events each year. The event is free to attend as are most attractions and a minimal charge is applied to concessions and food which draws people from all walks of life, cultures, and languages.
Eastern Ontario Maple Producers’ Association (one of eleven chapters of the Ontario Association) regularly attends four to six events each year in an effort to out-reach to consumers directly. Our goal is to both promote locally produced maple syrup but also to emphasize the health benefits of an all-natural sweeter. Of all the events we have participated in over the past five years I can’t begin to describe the absolute positive feedback we received from both consumers and organizers on our participation in this event. Our main roll was to provide real maple syrup for the pancake breakfast typically seeing 1,500 participants. Current volunteers for the event could not remember a time when real maple syrup was ever offered so it was definitely a step up on their event and extremely well received.
As maple producers we are always hit up for syrup donations every year from groups we have never heard from before but once in a while a group comes along that is worth the effort and expense. Eastern Ontario Local provided 11 gallons of syrup pre-packaged into ½ liter ketchup style plastic squeeze bottles for the caterer with another 10 gallons on site in bulk if it was needed. We wanted to ensure no one ran out of syrup and that everyone had their fill for this event. The syrup was tendered as 1 gallon (4 liter) donations from our members which are currently 72 strong and this process worked out perfectly.
In exchange for our syrup donation free display space was provided at the event where we taste tested real maple syrup against
Frank Heerkens, with a little help from a young Princess Leia, successfully defeated the Empire saving consumers from the dark side of artificial sweeteners. Nice Storm Trooper rabbit ears there Frank!
artificial table syrup and also sampled granulated (stirred) sugar along with providing nutritional information. We also had old fashioned styled shoulder yokes adjusted to different heights for the kids to try out and a good collection of free maple recipe cards available. One of the most popular displays was our magic maple tree that runs sap at every event we attend. For what it’s worth we had a 95% success rate with the maple syrup taste testing. The 5% that preferred the artificial table syrup were either Southern US visitors from out of town or very young kids that had never tasted real maple syrup before. These types of events are a wonderful out reach for producer associations in all regions helping to not only promote local producers but the maple industry in general. If you are not doing at least one of these types of events a year please consider it because it helps us all in the long run.
With the approach of fall weather and cooler temperatures the Eastern Ontario Local of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association hosted their first ever maple syrup for beginners course in Moose Creek, Ontario on September 24th. By all accounts the day was deemed hugely successful with 68 people in attendance and 9 new association memberships purchased during the full day course. The idea to host the course was prompted by the many people asking about how to get started in maple as Eastern Local has been out promoting the maple industry at various agricultural and woodlot events over the past couple years. Organizers, volunteers, dealers, and attendees alike all provided very positive feedback on the day’s events and enjoyed themselves immensely.
Given this was a first time attempt at a beginner’s course for our region Eastern Local had to start from scratch on both developing content and deciding on the format. In an effort to get away from the usual Power Point type presentations Eastern decided on setting up seven individual hands-on type work stations with some indoors and others out and a different topic and presenter at each one. The group was divided equally between each of the seven stations to start and moved on to the next station every 30 minutes. The day was wrapped up with a panel discussion of producers that had built their maple operations from the beginning and whom had made an interesting collection of mistakes along the way. The producer that purchased an arch the same size as his sugar shack was likely the most unique mistake shared during the discussion.
All of the basics of maple were covered during the day with a strong emphasis on quality, grading, and Ontario regulations. Work stations included identifying maples & tapping, proper sap handling and storage, boiling, filtering & bottling, density, grading & regulations, and one station was devoted to local dealers to display beginner’s equipment, hand out catalogues, and answer general maple questions. Each station presenter had the challenge of how to develop an interesting demonstration for their assigned topic which can sometimes be difficult outside of maple season. Items such as spoiled sap were duplicated to show first-hand what it looks like along with samples of what buddy sap would smell like while boiling. Taste tests were given comparing golden syrup to very dark at the grading table and samples of moldy under density and sugar crystal over density syrup were shown at the density station. The tapping station had a maple log strapped to an existing tree to allow everyone to try their hand at setting a tap and the boiling station had everything from an Aboriginal hollowed out log to a high efficiency arch on display.
With much misinformation readily available both online and in outdated maple books the beginner’s course was intended to give new producers a helping hand to start off producing a quality maple product, source local supplies, and point them in the right direction to get more information as they need it. Any local maple groups interested in hosting their own maple course are more than welcome to contact Eastern at email@example.com for advice and suggestions. The way we did things is not necessarily the best or only way to do it but it certainly worked very well for our group and everyone involved.
Eastern Local once again attended the Glengarry Wood Fair held each year in Dunvegan, Ontario. This annual event is targeted at woodworkers and woodlot owners and typically has about 1000 visitors during the one day event. Eastern local borrowed the brand new OMSPA tent to try out at this event along with our own matching table cloths to see how the added marketing efforts may play out. We were the only exhibitor with a printed canopy which certainly made us stand out but unfortunately our placement on the grounds was very poor which made it difficult to determine the “draw factor” of the printed tent. We suspect that at major events with good sight lines that the new tent available to any local to borrow will be well received and take us up a step in professional presentation.
As always our sampling of granulated maple sugar was well received in an effort to promote local producers to consumers and many interested new producers picked up flyers for our beginners course in September. While this annual event is not large in scale it always seems to help promote local sales and new members for our organization and is one of the several events we participate in each year. This is one of several events that Eastern is out flying the OMSPA flag at to not only promote Ontario maple sales but membership within our association. For any local trying their hand at an info booth I will say the following items get the most interest;
Samples of granulated maple sugar
Sample of Asian Long-horn Beatle
Foodland recipe cards (old or new)
Flyers for any local workshops (Info Day)
New grading card info
Anything else you add to your display is extra info but these ones noted above are the ones we find are the main draws of interest.
Each year the Eastern Ontario Local of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association hosts a local maple workshop in November. Once again this year new ideas and speakers where introduced for another successful event. Along with the usual presentations from the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture there were presentations from Jake Moser of New York State and Dr. Abby van den Berg of Proctor Maple Research Center in Vermont. Dr. Abby presented on her research comparing RO processed syrup to the same syrup produced using conventional methods and Jake Moser showed off his small producer production techniques for value added products used only items purchased at Walmart. With 73 producers in attendance the day was considered a success but we also believe there is more room for growth in coming years.
Keeping in stance with the likes of IMSI and the Federation of Quebec the Eastern Local is very much interested in directly marketing maple to the consumer and expanding our local market. New this year we added a silent auction to our Info Day offering rare and unusual maple items with 100% of that funding being re-invested into local maple marketing efforts. If you saw the article in the recent issue of The Maple News about Ontario maple producers marketing at the 2015 International Plowing Match you have an idea of what we are after. With the added revenue gained from the silent auction we will be planning on a presence at the Ottawa Food Show this October. The Ottawa Food Show is a truly urban event catering to affluent urban foodies that might not otherwise know about local maple producers. This is a high class (and high cost) event and one that will challenge both our presentation skills and funding but we are determined to be successful.
Given that Eastern is a little different than other Locals by hosting our Info Day in November it leaves us room for other events while the rest of the province is doing their regularly scheduled tour in January/February. This year we planned a firearms course for the first Saturday in February but due to tremendous demand we quickly added a second course on the following Sunday offering a total of twenty spots to OMSPA members. Both days were sold out so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a rapid reduction in squirrel populations in the Eastern end of the province sometime soon… but just guessing.
It’s been a very busy summer and fall for our local this year. Thanks to a bunch of volunteers we managed to be out at AG and food events almost every second weekend from June right through to October. These events across Eastern Ontario were used to promote local syrup, local producers, and the Ontario maple producers association itself and we are seeing results because of it. New members are joining now, preferring not to wait for the New Year or Maple Info Day. We have seen some small bulk orders being tendered and an increase in interest for value added maple products. Media inquiries are frequent and our business networking has grown into new opportunities and ventures for the coming year. Not bad at all given much of this effort had a learning curve involved and we were starting from scratch with our booth display. Great people, a bit of imagination and creativity, and a bunch of dedication just made it work. Thanks to everyone involved this past year and hopefully we will see a few new folks step up for 2015.
Speaking of 2015 the big news is that the International Plowing Match will be hosting in Finch, Ontario… right here in our own backyard. This is a golden opportunity for the Ontario Maple Producers Association and our regional local to really shine in the face of local consumers and will out do anything we’ve done in the past year. I will be honest and say the maple representation at the IPM has varied a lot over the years. Sometimes we’ve had a good presence but other times not so much. Given our group and our experience I fully expect to knock the socks off attendees next year. I am already involved in planning meetings with the 2015 IPM committee and we are looking at two different tent displays. We will need people to help on this so be prepared for a call as we get going. We want to host a historical display in the history area and a “science of maple” display in the educational tent. Both displays will need at least two people per day which includes admission to the grounds. With an expected 100 000 people attending, 80% or which will be local, this will be a 4 day marketing blitz like nothing else we have access to.
Bulk syrup continues to be a hot topic of discussion for Eastern Ontario producers. While we managed to drum up a little extra sales (pardon the pun) we still do not have access to a big buyer without exorbitant shipping costs involved. Some local dealers are exploring bulk options and I have heard of some manufacturers accepting syrup in exchange for equipment but neither is a real solution for our excess capacity and the overwhelming desire to grow. One option might be to partner with First Nations at Akwesasne to develop a maple export business to be marketed overseas. Our member producers would not need to be federally registered to sell to Akwesasne and First Nations has the marketing branding to be successful worldwide. Just ideas at this point and much would be needed to go from good idea to good business but we are aware of the situation and looking for solutions.
On a final note I want to comment on the disappointing situation taking place in the ByWard Market of Ottawa. This area has been known as a farmers’ market since Colonel By set it up in 1826 yet these days only about 6 vendors are actual real life farmers. Our local recently participated in a marketing event in the ByWard Market only to find out that there was only one real maple producer selling products (OMSPA member Robert Hupe) and everyone else was simply buying bulk and repackaging. Most real producers were driven out by the resellers buying bulk Quebec syrup and then “low-balling” the retail price. One liter of syrup was selling for $15 the day I was there and reportedly has been listed lower. Local farm gate syrup is selling at between $20 and $25 per liter in comparison. $15 in the heart of the Nation’s Capital catering to bus loads of international tourists and we wonder why people buy at Costco or Wal-Mart? There is a true injustice taking place here. A big part of the blame lay with the City of Ottawa bureaucracy but perhaps part lays with our own branding and promotions. The good news is that a new plan is in the works at the provincial level that should help set Ontario producers apart from the Quebec maple factories. No matter what develops in the near future Robert Hupe and other producers like him need support from our organization.