By the time you get this email we will probably be plugging away on our last boil of the season. We’re into the dark syrup now, and will bottle some up before Friday – we know you have been waiting for it!
Dark syrup is generally not the sugarmaker’s pride and joy – delicate, light syrup is how maple folks like to show off their craft, and also what commands the highest prices from wholesalers – but it definitely has its place. We were fortunate to sneak out to our friends Jamie and Amber’s restaurant The Everly over the weekend where they feature our syrup in some of their desserts. Great desserts, but owing to the early season syrup, a little light on the maple-i-ness. We’ll make sure they get some dark for those desserts – you can pick up the amber in their bottle shop next door!
Traditionally the darker grades of syrup have gone for processing things like confections, tobacco, and of course to flavour those terrible knock off corn syrups like Old Tyme. Fortunately, many of you are appreciating the robust flavour of darker grades and creating a market for farmers like us. Personally, when we are making syrup, by the time we are making the dark stuff I am sick and tired of eating sugar no matter how it looks or tastes! That’s how maple season goes: can’t wait for it to start, and very relieved when it ends… Now we have five months of growing vegetables to look forward to – no rest for the wicked.
Thanks to everyone for getting their feet wet with our online store. We also appreciate those of you who just want to shoot us an email and pay cash – as a fellow luddite I am very sympathetic and we’re happy to do things either way.
The main goal of our online store is to grow our business. Farming is all about scale, and it’s very tricky to find the balances in production, marketing, labour and so on. Some of you have been around since the very beginning, when we did all of our fieldwork with draft horses. Since then we’ve come to appreciate and implement modern equipment, producing more and more food for our community, and raising our growing family in the effort.
One has to be careful with scale as well. I saw that potatoes at the grocery store were something like $1.47 for a ten pound bag. It’s worth noting that there’s about 35 cents worth of packaging there, so it’s obvious that someone is getting the short end of the stick in this arrangement – it’s not the grocer. Beyond a certain scale you become sort of “stuck” with your product – you have so much, and so much money tied up into it, that you have to take what you can get just to keep ahead of the bank.
How hard do grocers play ball? If you shop at Loblaws, you may have noticed the absence of Frito-Lay products on the shelf. Loblaws took them off the shelf over a two month long price dispute. Frito-Lays is owned by Pepsi, one of the largest food processors in the world. Think about the leverage on both sides of this dispute. Now imagine how Loblaws treats farmers…
Oh hey look! It’s the middle aisles of the grocery store! It’s quite something isn’t it – I recognize almost all of these products, and they’re available coast to coast 24/7 across North America, and much of the world. Very few of them do we actually “need” however, and a great deal of it is just bad for you. This is also a very bland and homogenized version of a culture – the complete absence of local food specialties or tradition, detached entirely from the environment.
When people tell me that they’re glad farmers like us are there because the future looks grim, I often have to bite my tongue and ask why they don’t shop with us more – we’re not going to be there for the future unless we’re in business right now.
And it’s hard to address this stuff without sounding like a mad man, because, well, all of the doom and gloom thankfully does not materialize. We’re just seeing a slow and steady chipping away, selection and quality decreases, prices climb. I’m not even of the mind that we’re going to see actual food shortages here (the largess of North American agriculture is really beyond incredible) but just that consumers are going to be left with fewer choices and higher costs, while farmers grapple with thinner margins and ever increasing levels of regulation and taxes.
So, not to sound like a pessimist… I’m actually more jazzed about farming than I ever have been – and that’s really saying something because I am a damn fool! I suppose if anything, I just want to reiterate (as I seem to every week) that what we are doing with this local food thing is important and it matters. Not only for social, economic and environmental reasons, but as an alternative to an alienating and boring global food system, because it’s fun, and dignifying, and interesting; “the spice of life”.