Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Sap is Flowing

A small ad in the local newspaper that advertised an open house at Hilltop Maple Syrup this past weekend caught my attention so my wife and I took a Brazilian family that was visiting us out to see how you make maple syrup.

Orville Alwardt has been producing maple syrup in IL for the past five years, gradually growing production each year. Last year he produced over 300 gallons in his farm based business, diversifying away from only producing corn and soybeans.

Orville is a talkative and engaging sort who showed us his processing and bottling operation, “The sap just started flowing yesterday. We were concerned that we wouldn’t have anything to show at our open house. We have to have freezing nights and warm days to get it flowing.”

He explained how he collects the sap, “We bore holes in the trees, from one to four depending upon the size of the tree. But unlike the old days when you hung buckets under those bores, we have installed a tube system that utilizes gravity and a partial vacuum.”

It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. The sap has to be heated, which Orville does with a corn burner, boiling off the water in the sap, leaving the delicious syrup.

Illinois will never touch the production of VT, ME or NY but I firmly believe that there are numerous opportunities for agricultural niche producers in products like maple syrup, honey, flowers and numerous other non-traditional agricultural products.

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