By Hannah Grimes Marketplace and Laura Keir
Hank Kenney’s favorite part of maple sugaring is the boiling, when the gallons and gallons of sap are reduced down to a sweet syrup. But so far this year, he hasn’t been able to do much boiling. Up until this past Saturday, March 12, when the Kenneys started boiling, they hadn’t made “a spoonful” of maple syrup. Last year Maple Homestead Farm had finished its syrup production by March 18th. Despite the slow start to the sugaring season at Maple Homestead Farm and elsewhere, the sap is finally running.
Hank has been farming his land in Marlborough since 1972. For nearly 20 years, it was a dairy farm with up to 70 cows. But they couldn’t make money at it. Now the Kenneys’ focus is on the maple syrup, which is available in about 10 stores in the area, and on the hay, which they sell to grain stores and big stables. The roughly 1,000 gallons of maple syrup the farm makes in an average year accounts for about a quarter of the farm’s business, while the 30,000 bales of hay produced each year makes up a considerable chunk of the rest. They also keep five beef cows.
The weather had not cooperated to make the sap run at Maple Homestead until just this past Saturday- freezing nights and warm, sunny days are needed. The Kenneys tap 5,100 trees spread out over 500 acres of land. The sap that ran from those trees earlier in the season did not contain enough sugar to make quality maple syrup. Using a hydrometer to test the sap, Hank found that the sap was only 1% sugar, while 2% or 3% is usually needed to make syrup. Hank says this is probably because the maple trees did not get enough rain back in August, when they were producing their sugars. Despite the low sugar content, someone did boil this low sugar sap, but according to Hank the syrup turned out so dark that they could not sell it.
One of Hank’s favorite maple stories involves a group of middle school kids from Long Island who came up for a visit on a cold, rainy day during sugaring season. “Most had never been off the pavements,” he says. Hank gave them buckets and took them out to show them how the sugaring was done. When they got back to the house, one young boy looked at Hank and said: “Mr. Kenney, this is a lot of work. Why don’t you just buy your syrup at the supermarket?”
“People have gotten too far removed from the farm,” Hank says. “Fewer and fewer people are directly involved with farming. They think food grows on the store shelves.”
As a farmer, Hank knows best that food depends on the temperament of the weather rather than magically appearing on the grocery store shelf. Hank’s prediction for the 2011 sugaring season is that due to the unusually late start there will be less maple syrup produced in this part of the state compared with areas further north. Time will tell how the season shapes up for that golden maple syrup New Hampshire is famous for.
Maple Homestead Farm
60 Richardson Rd
Marlborough, NH 03455
Maple Syrup from Maple Homestead Farm is available at the Hannah Grimes Marketplace.