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Energy & Environment

Maple sugar season ends on a strong note after a cool April

Sunshine, spring peepers and budding trees all signal spring is finally here, and that means the end for maple syrup season.

It was a longer season than most, and those who tap trees say it was one of the most productive seasons in decades.

Greg Johnson, a member of the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe tribe, collects maple sap every year.

Rarely does he get as much as he did this year.

“It just kept getting cold and warm and cold and warm and cold and warm, and what that does is it activates those trees, so they’re kicking the sugar up and down the trees,” he says. “It was one of the most productive years I think our camp has ever had.”

Maple sap flow is heavily dependent on weather. It does best when temperatures are below freezing at night and just above freezing during the day.

So, this year’s streak of cool weather kept the sap coming.

That’s good news for the health of the community, Johnson says.

Instead of making syrup, Ojibwe people traditionally use the sap to make maple candy.

“As everyone in Lac du Flambeau is familiar, we have a rampant diabetes disease that exists in our reservation and with our people,” he says. “So, one of the ways we combat that is we replace white sugar with maple sugar.”

Maple candy has a long history in Ojibwe communities.

“Back in the day the sugar was more transportable, so what they would do is they would eliminate all the water out of it and make it into cakes,” Johnson explains. “You could put one in your pocket and go hunting and you’d have food all day. Or you could go fishing all day and you’d have that cake and that would give you enough energy for the day.”

At one time, Johnson says the cakes were even used as currency.

Now, there’s a movement both within the Lac du Flambeau community and beyond to return to maple sugar as a replacement for more processed sugars.

Johnson says more tribal members were harvesting sap this year than he’s seen in 20 years.

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