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Hands-On Maple Syrup Mentorship Emphasizes Production & Forest Health

New and aspiring maple syrup producers now have more options for hands-on training in east central Ontario thanks to Farms at Work’s brand new Maple Syrup Production Mentorship.

The Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association (OMSPA) has identified an opportunity for industry growth, calling for the creation of a mentorship program in its 2012 Strategic Plan. Farms at Work has responded by working with local OMSPA members to develop a hands-on, curriculum-based mentorship program for six new producers. It will begin in October 2015 and run through May 2016. In its first year, the Maple Syrup Mentorship will be led by long-time producers Marc and Diane Curle, who come from a 150 year sugaring tradition, and have been involved in the maple industry for 45 years themselves. Curle’s Maple Products and Maple Museum, located near Campbellford, utilizes roughly 2,000 maple taps each year, produces value-added products, and attracts visitors from around the world.

Forest management will be strongly emphasized during the five-day mentorship program. Participants (“mentees”) will learn about the positive impact that forest management can have on the health of the sugar bush and their maple businesses. With a background in logging, and nearly 50 years of managing their own large scale maple operation, the Curles have a wealth of information about forest management to offer mentees.

Field days will involve forest walks to visually and verbally introduce participants to tree health by surveying for signs of stress, disease and other abnormalities. Mentees will also learn about selective harvesting as a means of promoting vigorous maple crown growth, as well as regeneration of maples over other competing species. The Curles will also address factors to consider in road and pipeline layouts within a sugar bush. The Curles’ top priority is always to maintain the health of their forest, knowing that this is the best long-term approach to maximizing the success of their business. The mentorship will also cover production, value-added products and equipment – the full range of information required by new entrants.

The FAW Maple Syrup Mentorship is the first hands-on, full-season maple training program of its kind in the province, and is one of four mentorship programs run by Farms at Work. For the last three years, FAW has been offering new and aspiring farmers the opportunity to learn with respected farmer-mentors in the fields of beekeeping, sheep farming, pasture management, and now maple syrup. Each program emphasizes the hands-on production and business skills required to succeed. With groups of between six and eight per program, mentees have ample opportunity for interaction with their mentors and fellow mentees to build lasting relationships within the farming community.