White Meadows Farms
When the snow begins to melt in mid-February to early March, Maple tree sap starts flowing and the labour-intensive process of tapping trees, collecting sap and boiling it into maple syrup begins. For White Meadows Farms (WMF) it’s a labour of love and 25 years of family tradition.
“We are one of the only players in the Niagara region making maple syrup and we’ve been doing it for more than 25 years,” shares Richard Bering, CEO of WMF. The family-owned farm rests on 160 acres of Niagara forest with more than 5,000 taps.
“WMF is a fourth-generation business,” reveals Bering, whose great-grandfather, Adam Bering, was the first to settle in St. Catharine’s, Ontario. “My great-grandfather started the farm in 1937 as a small dairy operation. He sold a handful of cash crops and juice grapes, as well. It wasn’t until the late 1980s when my father started tapping trees as a hobby. Eventually, the dairy herd sold off and WMF began to focus solely on maple syrup production.”
Tap by tap, WMF’s maple syrup operation began to grow and now the company is the largest in the region, offering 100 percent pure Canadian maple syrup but also tours, demonstrations, wholesale and retail sales and even a popular on-site restaurant. “We’re about showing the process and history of what we do here,” explains Bering. “We receive about 20,000 visitors between February and March every year. People drive for hours to get here.”
From the tree to the table
Peak syrup-making season runs anywhere from six to eight weeks when warm spring days allow the trees to bud. For the sap to flow during this short time span, the weather must fluctuate between freezing temperatures at night and warm temperatures during the day. Once the sap is collected from the trees by drilling a small hole, it’s processed into maple syrup as quickly as possible, since raw sap spoils easily due to the high level of natural bacteria it contains.
To remove the excess water from the sap, it’s boiled in an evaporator fueled by wood. The sap starts in the flue pan part of the equipment and flows through to the finishing pan. As the maple sap reduces, the boiling point increases until it reaches a rich, deep caramel color.
The next step in the process is filtering. The most common way of filtering maple syrup is with a machine called a filter press consisting of many plates with paper filters pressed between. A pump presses the syrup through the papers and the result is ready-to-use, 100-percent-pure maple syrup.
Now that the process is laid out, one can imagine the amount of work that goes into producing a single gallon or even one pint of maple syrup. “We have eight year-round employees, but we hire about 65 people seasonally during our busiest time,” reveals Bering.
More than a product, an experience
Situated in Ontario’s Niagara region, agritourism drives a great deal of WMF’s business every year. “People come not just for the maple syrup, but for the whole experience,” explains Bering. “They’re curious about how it’s made and the process.”
Starting in mid-February right through the beginning of April, WMF’s sheltered Sugar Shuttle takes visitors out to the Sugar Bush Adventure where a self-guided tour of the farm’s trails begins. WMF’s re-enactors, dressed in costume, demonstrate and share the history of one of Canada’s first harvests. Visitors can sit around a fire and listen to stories or use a hand drill to tap a tree themselves, do a tasting and learn much about maple before being shuttled back to the farm. “Now we’re going to be doing a new tour called Discover Maple, which will focus more on the trees and tapping for syrup,” adds Bering.
With so much sweet syrup at hand, what’s better than a piping hot breakfast to enjoy it with? In 2000, WMF expanded its Pancake House and Bering is proud to announce the 136-seat restaurant will remain open year-round for the first time in 2014. “We make all of our pancakes from scratch, but we also serve up French toast, sausage and peameal bacon,” shares Bering. “There’s also maple granola, maple bran muffins or a bagel topped with mouth-watering maple butter and slow-cooked maple baked beans. There’s something for everyone.”
Aside from the on-site restaurant, WMF also sells to local cafes and restaurants via wholesale distribution. “This area is home to many great shops and wineries and over the years we’ve built strong relationships with other local producers,” notes Bering. “We send business their way and they send customers our way.”
WMF has also expanded its online sales, selling to maple fans around the world from Japan to Korea and even Australia. “We now have our own printing press, as well, and we can make any label size or shape,” reveals Bering.
After 25 years, WMF has significantly expanded into all facets of maple production and products, but Bering says the company remains close to its community as a family-owned business. “We fund a breakfast organization called Niagara Nutrition Partners where they run breakfast and snack programs in all of the elementary and high schools in our region,” he shares. “It’s just a small way we’re trying to be more socially responsible. Also, for every pancake we sell in the Pancake House, we donate 5 cents, and 50 cents for every bag of pancake mix we sell.”
From the forest to the table, in a labour of love, White Meadows Farms continues to share a family tradition with visitors, sharing the knowledge, stories and skills that have been passed down through four generations.