The Passamaquoddy Tribe is tapping into the maple syrup market this year, as it begins an ambitious plan that will lead to revenue for the tribe and up to 25 jobs. Passamaquoddy Maple Syrup has tapped closed to 3,000 trees in the Jackman area this season, and within three years the tribe plans to tap 60,000 trees and bottle the syrup at Pleasant Point.
The tribe owns 47,673 acres over seven townships in the Jackman region, and this year the project is using 38 of those acres. The project is being undertaken jointly by the tribe's two reservations.
According to Marie Harnois, manager of Passamaquoddy Maple Syrup, the company has been collecting 1,000 to 1,500 gallons of sap a day since the end of March. She notes that the season has been late this year because of the cold weather. Usually sap is being collected by March 20 in the Jackman area, but this year the season began 10 days later. Also the yield has been less, with Harnois noting that on a good day a gallon of sap can be collected from each tree. This year the amount has been less than half a gallon. The season will continue until the end of April.
During this initial year, the concentrated sap is being sold to Arnold Farm Sugarhouse just north of Jackman, which will process the sap. The tribe will then buy back the syrup and begin marketing it under the tribe's own label this fall.
Next year, the tribe will be making the maple syrup in Jackman. The tribe has a reverse osmosis machine that removes much of the water in the sap and makes it much faster to boil the sap down into syrup. All of the sap collection and evaporation will be done in Jackman, and the syrup will then be stored in drums that will be shipped to one of the reservations for bottling. Harnois understands that the bottling will be done at a facility at Pleasant Point.
Passamaquoddy Maple Syrup has already obtained organic certification for its operations. Harnois notes that the standard operating procedures that must be followed include only tapping trees that are 10" or larger in diameter and not using two taps unless the tree is at least 20" in diameter. The tribe is using tubing and vacuum pumps to collect the sap from the trees.
This year four field workers are employed, along with Harnois, and it's expected that the operation will employ 15 to 25 people when full production is reached in three years. Although a number of the jobs will not be permanent, Harnois says that the field work will be full-time throughout the year, as the tree stands will need to be maintained, along with the equipment. The bottling operation at the reservation is projected to employ six people.
Harnois says, "It's a great project and we have a great staff." Four tribal members have been working in the Jackman area on the project since February, she notes. "We all love to be outside. It's been a really great learning experience, and we can't wait to grow." She adds, "The tribe's been really supportive of the project."
Although none of the workers have been involved with sugaring off work before, Harnois says they have been assisted by Perry Gates, an owner of the maple syrup company Maine Gold based in Rockland, who has been working as a consultant to the tribe. Representatives from LaPierre USA of Swanton, Vt., showed how to set up the equipment, and a professional installer demonstrated how to set up the lines.
Last year the tribe received a grant of almost $1.5 million from the federal Administration for Native Americans for the project. The funds, which will be given out over three years, must be matched by the tribe.
The tribe has been working on marketing strategies for the maple syrup, and the Joint Tribal Council will decide on a brand name. Although marketing ideas are still in the early stages, Harnois says that including the blueberries produced by the tribe in a pancake mix, along with the syrup, all in an ash basket made by tribal basket-makers, is one possibility that has been discussed.
Passamaquoddy Chief Clayton Cleaves of Pleasant Point has noted that the maple syrup project fits well with the tribe's culture, pointing out that the Passamaquoddy are one of the Algonquin tribes, and maple syrup was first used by the Algonquins.