Maple syrup is a natural resource, and a connection to our state’s history. In early Spring, sap begins to flow from many types of trees: Red & Silver Maples, Box Elders, Birch – although none as prized as the Sugar Maple. The Chippewa, Menominee & Winnebago Tribes of the Great Lakes Region awaited this time of year for centuries. The gathering of sap was a harvest of importance and celebration; these Tribes would move their people to the sugar camp (a concentrated group of Maple trees with area to sugar) to harvest the sap.
Native Americans traded maple syrup with the Settlers, eventually teaching them how to make it for themselves. Towns like Sugar Camp in Oneida County and Sugar Creek in Walworth County are areas where sap & syrup would reign in the economy. Sugar Lake, and the three Sugarbush Lakes are historically symbolic as well. Maple processing became a celebrated industry in Wisconsin in the 1800s, and still today, seasonal Maple syrup Pancake Breakfasts are held around the state. 1965 witnessed the foundation of The Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association, and small farming operations grew throughout the state, cultivating this sweet and healthy elixir.
In 2014, Wisconsin’s syrup crop was valued at about 3.2 million. Farmers are now expanding markets by producing maple sugar, maple cream, maple root beer, and sauces. It is safe to say that the harvesting and utilization of what is likely the oldest agriculture in American history is a small but significant industry in Wisconsin. Expanding syrup’s role in our economy while balancing it’s design alongside nature can lead to commercial growth linked to a needed tree repopulation effort. Sap-producing trees, planted to compensate for the dwindling Ash population, can allow this cottage industry to expand, creating a celebration of our state’s official tree that we all can attend.
“A sap run is the sweet goodbye of winter. It is the fruit of the equal marriage of the sun and the frost.” ~ John Burroughs