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Name: Corrie St. Saviour
Location: Brownfield, Maine
How many people eat together in your home? 3 (myself; my husband, Nate; and our 2-year-old daughter)
Avoidances: Corrie has a gluten intolerance
If you ever wondered what life would be like if you moved to Maine and became a maple syrup farmer who uses syrup as currency, Corrie St. Saviour will set the scene for you. She and her husband, Nate, are the co-founders of Sap Hound Maple Company, which has been in operation in Brownfield, Maine, for a decade. “We feel blessed we live in a state we can afford to be farmers in. There’s a nice community of other young farmers in Maine who we trade with. We try not to trade money, just syrup,” says Corrie.
Of course it’s not all sugar and spice and everything nice — Corrie will be the first to say that sugaring is hard work! We caught up with Corrie to talk about tree-tapping season, what a day in the life at the sugar house is like, and all the ways her family enjoys maple syrup. (Fun fact: It’s not on pancakes.)
How did you end up owning a Sugar Maple farm in Maine?
I grew up in Vermont, where I met my husband in school. He’s a lifelong Mainer, so we moved back here. I grew up sugaring when I was really little, and had really great memories. As an adult, I always wanted to do it. A friend gave my husband the book Backyard Sugarin’ by Rink Mann, and he kind of got it in his mind that this would be easy to do.
What did it take to really start out?
We’re really fortunate that a close family friend of Nate’s father did some sugaring. His family gave us a bunch of equipment that no one wanted. We grabbed our buckets and old lines from them, and make-shifted something out in the woods, boiling the sugar on a campfire.
We had a little plot of land and Nate’s family owned the adjacent land. We assumed we’d never do this for a business because it’s way too much work (and we’d never make any money). But one day we just decided to count the trees on the property and thought there were enough to make it happen. We talked to his family and came up with a plan to buy them out. It was never a question after that.
Is it as idyllic as it sounds?
Working in the woods is really wonderful. It was very much a natural segue for the both of us. For the 10 years before we owned this business, my job was working in the woods studying trees. Nate had taught himself how to be a plumber, carpenter, and electrician. He can fix anything, which is what any type of farming requires. Sugaring is really plumbing-intensive, you need everything running in the freeze/thaw. We just lucked out.
It does sound like a lot of work. Can you describe a typical day in the sugar shack?
We start tapping the trees in early January. We spend the early days getting our tubing system up and functioning and we look for leaks. Every bear and squirrel wants to bite holes in the system, branches fall, freeze valves will cause fittings to break — things like that. We’re constantly fixing equipment, cleaning tanks, and collecting sap. We process the sap with reverse osmosis — it’s essentially a big filter. We keep the concentrated sweet water, save the fresh water for cleaning, then run the concentrate through the evaporator and boil it. You try to boil whatever you collected during the day at night. It’s really neat to work with the land and make this delicious syrup.
Do you put syrup on everything? Are you a big pancakes and waffles family?
It’s funny, I don’t eat gluten or dairy. We don’t ever have pancakes! [Laughs.] For breakfast, I usually have Grandy Oats, a wonderful local company who we trade a bit of syrup with for their goodies. I love their Coconola. We put blueberries and maple syrup on their oats and granola in the mornings. They also have some awesome cups of oatmeal that I like to have at our other sugar house when we’re really busy.
Breakfast-wise, my husband goes through so many bags of coffee. He loves Maine Morning Micro Roasters; we get it really fresh from my friend Nancy. I like to make my own nut milks, and I put a bit of our maple syrup in that. We try to eat very healthy and are fortunate to have access to really good food. Our other neighbor is a blueberry farmer, Burnt Meadow Nursery, and they have amazing low-bush blueberries (we trade syrup for berries). When we want a treat, I take frozen blueberries out of the freezer, pour dark maple syrup on top, and mix it around. It’s kind of like fresh fruit sorbet.
Okay, wow. What’s a typical lunch?
I’m running around every day trying to expose our toddler to new stuff and make sure she’s eating. A lot of times we trade syrup for whole chickens from Patch Farm; we do a lot of trading with them. I throw the whole chicken into the Instant Pot and pull the meat off. I’ll put some applesauce on the side, tomatoes, avocados, carrots, pickles.
I was just speaking with my sister and we were talking about feeding toddlers, and how they like ketchup on everything. And weirdly, homemade ketchup is another really great way to use maple syrup (instead of corn syrup). We make lots of drinks, marinades, sauces, salad dressing, etc., and do all of our baking with it. We make maple sugar too, and love using that. It’s pretty endless. I think we use it even more for seasoning and flavor than for just sweetening things.
Where do you get most of your orders from?
We have a website and do online orders, but that’s not a big part of our business. We work with local restaurants, bakeries, and other food producers in Maine.
We recently partnered with this brewing company in Maine, Nonesuch Brewing Company. They started using our syrup in the kitchen and then decided to make some beer with it — they’re releasing a special Maple Cream Ale the second week of March that we’re excited about.
One of our biggest customers is The Flatbread Company in Portland, ME, and North Conway, NH. They try to buy as much as possible from local farms and are amazing. They make maple lemonade, which is one of the best things to do with maple in the summer. They use the syrup to caramelize onions for pizza and make whipped cream.
One of our employees, Hannah Demers, owns Maine Maple Creemee Co, a food truck. She makes maple soft-serve ice cream with our syrup.
Tell me more about this bartering system — so you hardly use money at all?
We trade our syrup for everything — computer work, blueberries, granola, nuts, meat, eggs, equipment — everything. It’s really good. Everyone has different systems, but for the most part people are super fair. If anything, people tend to over-give.
Do you ever need to go to a grocery store?
We go to a local health food store in the neighboring town — and we trade with them! They sell our syrups and we keep a tab there. We have a CSA in the summer, a coffee club, and Nate’s brother happens to be a fisheries biologist, so he hooks us up with salmon and halibut in the summer. When the pandemic came, I actually needed to go to the store more. The local farms near us started to sell out of their inventories, because people were panicking. The area has definitely noticed an increased interest in getting food from closer to home. We have this problem in our country with people not wanting to pay money for good-quality food. The recent interest in buying local is amazing for the farms; I hope it’s the kind of thing that sticks.
Thank you for sharing, Corrie! Follow Sap Hound Maple Company on Instagram.
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