By Clark Judge
(March 10, 2023) — We don’t need meteorologists to tell us that climate change is here. We have the volunteers at Parmelee Farm’s Sugar House.
They’re the ones who collect, process and bottle maple syrup each winter, last year working daily from mid-mornings until dusk to turn 3,000 gallons of sap into maple syrup. But this winter? A different story. There was no collecting, no processing and no movement this week until Thursday when volunteers were asked to return.
The reason? You guessed it.
“The weather hasn’t cooperated,” said Tim Gannon, who oversees a brigade of nearly one dozen volunteers. “It’s just too warm. It’s been a challenging year.”
At least it was until now. But a return of cold nights brought a resumption of activity Thursday, with Gannon & Co. walking buckets from nearby trees to the Sugar House for processing and bottling. When their work was complete, they’d collected 190 gallons of sap – or more than half the 360 of the previous weeks.
“It’s the kind of day we used to have last year on a regular basis,” said Gannon. “The temperature was cold (Wednesday) night, and the day was warm. So the sap was running.”
Just in time, too.
For the second consecutive weekend, Parmelee Farm will sell maple syrup on Saturday, March 11, 2023, to the public, beginning at 10:00 a.m. It did the same thing a week ago … but with two exceptions. First, that sale was what Gannon termed “a soft opening,” with only 70 12 oz. bottles available for $15 each. Second, the response was tepid. There wasn’t a sellout, with 24 bottles unsold.
That’s not unusual. It’s extraordinary. It had never happened.
“We didn’t really push it,” said Gannon of Opening Day, “because we were limited.”
Understood. Circumstances have changed from 2022 when volunteers collected 200 gallons of sap one afternoon and a Farm-record 275 gallons two days later. It was also a time when Parmelee sold out within the first half-hour on Opening Day.
But the inventory then was greater, and Parmelee could offer two bottles per customer. This year, it’s down to one because of – what else? – shortages.
“We did that,” said Gannon, “so that everyone who wants a bottle can have one.”
With less sap there’s less syrup, and the numbers are revealing. Where the Farm sold more than 51 gallons of syrup last winter, it could market only seven last weekend and anticipates close to ten this Saturday – well behind last year’s pace.
Again, blame it on the weather.
It’s not just an absence of cold evenings, reducing the flow of sap in maple trees; it’s an absence of snow, too. Without it, volunteers are unable to refrigerate stored sap for any length of time. In the past, they could do it by packing snow around containers. But not this winter. There’s been virtually no snow.
Nevertheless, the season isn’t over. Parmelee Farm opens again next weekend for its last maple syrup push, and the forecasts are encouraging. A combination of cold nights, warmer days and, yes, possibly snow is predicted, which could boost production … and sales.
“It’s very possible our season has just moved farther down on the calendar,” said Gannon. “At least, that’s our hope.”
Photos by Clark Judge