Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Most Cherished Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is a 'non-timber forest product'. Like natural rubber and pine resin, maple syrup production promotes reforestation, forest cover protection and low-input production methods. It is the kind of enterprise that makes rural life possible.

It is no surprise then that people engaged in this type of production are a certain kind of 'environmentalist'. Their 'forest management' is most accurately described as 'knowing' their forest. Walking, looking, listening. Being there in their forest. It is 'slow' economic activity.

I have met this particular type of forest manager in both Honduras and Canada, people living in and making a living out of the forest they protect, nurture and know.

We want to support those kinds of efforts as consumers.

Today we went to buy maple syrup- maybe a year's supply- from the most amazing sugar bush manager, a 66 km (or 44 mile) drive from home. This is a second growth forest on the north shore of Lake Erie, owned and run by Robert McLaren. He exalts in the beauty of his forest, its wildlife, its strength. He grew up in a forest- his father ran a park- and working in its sugar operation.

It is an old tradition in this region, really an Indigenous tradition that was preserved by European colonists. Most farms had a bush lot, many produced syrup, few do to today. "The farmers have just bulldozed them". In 1851, this township produced 5,945 pounds of maple sugar (and only 4,700 pounds of butter).

He splits all of his wood by hand. The syrup he produces is dark, very thick and tastes like woodsmoke. It tastes like a woodstove feels on a cold day.

The view on his farm is of thirty five acres of bush overlooking the lake, bordered by creeks that run through the gullies on either side of his forest.

Robert McLaren's farm is an example of what happens when a producer refuses to let market concerns trump environmental sustainability, and refuses to segregate 'nature' in parks.

The integrity of the product is assured by the integrity of the production. And the integrity of the producer. This is 'slow' production.

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