Team Member Taps Into Tasty Canadian Tradition

A sideline business is rapidly turning into a sweet and sticky success for a new member of the Ford Windsor team.

In 2017, Jarrod Fortin, a journeyman industrial mechanic millwright who started at Ford this past January, moved with his family to South Woodslee. The half-acre property had 40-plus maple trees and more than a dozen other species. “At first I thought, ‘These trees are utterly messy. I may have to thin a few of these down,’” said Fortin. “Thankfully, I did not.”

That’s because he decided to start tapping the maples for syrup in 2019. The endeavor, called South Woodslee Syrup, has now turned into a bona fide small business for he and his family.

Not only did Fortin sell out his inventory again this past season, he is now planning to expand his operation next year. “This year, we went through 58 bottles in total.  I sold anywhere from 12 to 20 of the 500-milliliters (16.9 ounces) to co-workers – and could have sold lots more, but I didn’t have the supply.”

Fortin said he and his family learned the process by talking with others who had done it, in addition to researching online. “Prior to February 2019, I had no clue how maple syrup made its way in the bottle, other than it came from maple trees somehow, some way,” he said. “I was conversing with some co-workers who had been successful at making it. That is when my questions started. ‘What kind of maples? How many? How big? What do you do with the sap? How do I know when it is syrup?’ All these questions I can now confidently answer after some poking around on YouTube and Google.

“I located some taps/spiles, spouts – whatever you want to call these glorified straws at the local TSC store, five-gallon pails, food-grade tubing – and away we went,” he added.

What started out as a five-tap operation grew to 126 this past season, with each of these syrup stanzas beginning on the spring side of winter after a good deep freeze, said Fortin, noting the ideal temperature for sap to run best is somewhere between -5 degrees C at night and +5 degrees C (23-41F) in the day. “You can typically have your season around here until mid-March, when the days are starting to be too warm and not cold enough during the nights,” he said.

Not only does fresh, pure maple syrup trump store-bought pancake syrup in terms of taste, Fortin said, it has many health benefits as well. “People ask how it compares to brands like Aunt Jemima,” he said. “Well, that is corn syrup, and I am not sure what half those ingredients are. What I am 100% sure of is there is nothing added to maple syrup, just water taken out. Maple sugar is also the lowest of sugars on the glycemic index for those who are diabetic or sugar-conscious, and is an unexpected source of essential minerals, including calcium, zinc, magnesium and potassium. Two tablespoons provide half of your recommended daily intake of manganese, which is important for bone health, metabolism and brain and nerve function.

“It even has a unique polyphenol, quebecol – named after Quebec,” he added. “A diet rich in polyphenols, also found in some fruit, green tea and red wine, helps reduce inflammation and supports a healthy immune system.”

Fortin said he is happy to help anyone interested in starting their own maple syrup operation – no matter the size. “If you have any species of maple, they can be tapped – the sugar content will just vary from different subspecies,” he said. “Get tapping next year folks, even if you only have one tree.”

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