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Sap is flowing just in time for this year’s Maple in the County celebration

This year’s Maple in the County producers are embracing the new grading system to be used across North America.

The buckets are on and the sap is flowing through maple trees in Prince Edward County as producers prepare for the 17th annual Maple in the County celebration March 24-25.

In the spirit of the recent Winter Olympics, this year’s crop is expected to be a winner under a new grading system adopted for the first time throughout North America.

The former five shades are being replaced to “golden, amber, dark or very dark. Grades are determined by a colour comparison chart.

“We’re seeing the new grades of golden, amber and dark looking a lot like gold, silver and bronze,” said Ron Hubbs, chair of the Maple in the County planning committee. “One isn’t necessarily better than another; it’s all a matter of personal taste preferences. The darker the colour, the stronger the maple flavour,” he explained at the media launch for this year’s event.

The maple weekend highlights pancake breakfasts, taffy on snow, s’mores, popcorn and other maple-inspired treats as well as a variety of activities including wagon rides, local music, petting zoos, lumberjack shows and more.

Maple in the County is considered the unofficial start of the County’s busy tourism season attracting more than 10,000 visitors.

“There’s a lot of tourism here but everybody looks at Maple in the County as kicking off another season,” said Lyle Vanclief, former federal minister of agriculture, speaking on behalf of MP Neil Ellis. “And it’s a social time as well – so rural to be able to sit in somebody’s sugar shack in the woods and have pancakes, and socialize.”

MPP Todd Smith was at the first tree-tapping of the season north of Deseronto last week hosted by members of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association.

“My colleague Mike Bossio tapped the first tree,” said Smith. “He did OK drilling the hole, but put the spigot in upside down while the cameras were rolling – which was less embarrassing than the year before, when I tapped the first tree in Hastings, near Marmora. They gave me the drill, but they put it on reverse. Took me a few minutes,” he said to laughs from the crowd inside the new sugar shack at Roblin’s Maple Syrup near Green Point.

Smith thanked this year’s hosts – Phil and Brittany Roblin – and all the young producers stepping up in the industry across the County.

“It’s exciting to see the young people taking up this industry. There’s so many skilled trades where they are not getting involved. This speaks well to the future of the maple industry here,” said Smith.

Phil and Brittany started Roblins in 2005 with about 250 taps and their business snowballed from there, now expanded to 1,100 taps in two sugar bushes.

“I can’t wait for maple syrup to arrive every year,” Phil said, adding he started making maple syrup when he was just eight-years-old.

Over the years, Prince Edward County Mayor Robert Quaiff has noticed a difference in how well the County is now known for its maple syrup, as well as its beaches, wines and beers.

“I used to have to explain where we were and now I go to these conferences and everybody knows, and has recently come back from a visit here. I amazingly proud of all the efforts from everybody here today and proud of the work you are doing.”

Prince Edward County’s young farmers are also reaching out – working together locally, and across the nation.

Justin Williams, of Bloomfield, is now vice-chair of the Canadian Young Farmers Forum which is designed to promote the exchange of ideas, and foster collaboration between young, and future farmers.

He explained to the gathering he had just returned from Saskatoon where the annual meeting saw 190 young farmers from coast-to-coast – and five from the Yukon – meet.

“It’s an opportunity to meet other young famers, hear what works well, what doesn’t, and learn from others,” he said.

Three younger farming families that joined Maple in the County last year, have signed up again this year to showcase their work and have some fun with the community.

Phil and Brittany Roblin are at 499 Cty Rd 35; Justin Williams and Family is at 254 Cty Rd 32 in Bloomfield. Chris and Jess Armstrong, of Loha Farms on Lucks Crossroad will also be welcoming the Picton Volunteer Fire Department for their all-day pancake breakfast. Part of their proceeds will support Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital.

A full list of participating sugarbushes, activities is available at the Maple in the County website. Free public skating will be held at the Picton arena both days from 1:30-3 p.m. and a free family movie will play at the Regent Theatre Sunday at 2 p.m.

Maple mascot jumping for joy that this year’s event is almost here.

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