Bissell Maple Farms Blog
“The Sugar Season” – Douglas Whynott
When I heard about this book that shadowed Bruce Bascom I had to read it. I have long admired Bruce for his connection to the maple producer. Another reason I wanted to read this book is I was there – in the book. You won’t see my name. But I swear to you, I was a part of it – along with many other producers just like me. We took a visit to Bascom’s last year to learn and pick up that next great tip in the endless pursuit of maple syrup perfection.
I was on vacation last week in California reading “The Sugar Season” and my wife is asking me, “how is the book?” (Because I couldn’t put it down). I kept telling her, “I feel like I’m there – in the book.” I was calling everyone back at the farm, “You have to read this book. You won’t believe how accurate it is. We were there!” Sure enough, three days into my vacation while reading this book – a segment on CBS This Morning promotes the book. As a “maple insider” I already knew the book was credible. The CBS segment seemed to gain the book temporary credence with my wife and her sister, who was hosting us.
Last year, we received an invitation by postcard to go to Bascom’s Open House at the end of the maple season and we jumped at it. We buy some supplies from Bruce and must be on his mailing list. I was excited to take Team Bissell Maple Farm up to New England and tour Bascom Maple Farm. They deserved the opportunity after the great maple season. We were all curious. After a few trips to Verona’s Maple expo and discussions with fellow syrup makers we know who Bruce Bascom is. If you make maple syrup, you’ve heard of Bruce Bascom. After all, he has been one of the primary buyers of bulk maple syrup in Ohio.
The setting in which the book takes place is hard to describe. A picture I took from my phone last year was a waste of time. The view was too awesome for my camera. (The word awesome is used too much on mundane things and I’m worried about using a word that has lost its grandeur. But the view is truly awesome.) The guy owns a mountain. I’m not kidding you the view from his facility is amazing. From the mountaintop view, to the structures, the hustle and bustle of maple season – customers coming and going. I felt like I was there at the exact same time the author was taking his notes. I swear, I remember some of the words and quips. My favorite is when a young fellow shows up and asks Bruce, “Do you work here?” Without missing a beat Bruce responds, “Yup, and they even gave me this hat.” I love it!
Two other figures stood out in this book. One of them is Kevin Bascom. He was a very knowledgeable guy. He was the kind of guy that if you were a talker, he’d let you talk. And he’s probably forgotten more about maple syrup production than most people know. But if you asked a question, he was there to give his insight. But he certainly wasn’t one to keep a fool from running his mouth.
The other figure in the book is Erwin Gingerich. It was cool to read about someone I know pretty well in a book that was promoted on CBS Today Show. It also shows how much the Amish community is a big part of Ohio’s maple industry – and the maple industry in the US. The author intimated at coming down to visit Erwin in Ohio. I hope I can get him to sign my book when he’s here visiting. Another book topic perhaps? I’m happy for Erv and can’t wait to tease him a little about his fame the next time I see him.
There is one key point I want to make about this book. The author truly immerses himself into a subject. Whynott has credibility with me, a sugarmaker. Maybe that will help someone with no knowledge of the maple syrup industry feel good about reading “The Sugar Season” to gain some insight.
Buy Local and mean it, not just with words.
North Carolina’s motto is profound. It simply states: “To be, rather than to seem.” This certainly applies to a much deeper core of our being, but I’m going to apply this motto to our experience as a supplier to the emerging local food movement. We sell a lot of pure Ohio maple syrup and we have a variety of customers. I notice there are some that (air quotes here) “buy local” and some that truly buy local. I get irritated with national corporate chains of natural food stores that spend more time trying to appear like they are buying local, than actually buying local. I swear our products probably come out of their marketing budget. They treat us like we bother them.
On the flip side, there are a good portion of our customers that truly buy local. And do you know what I’ve noticed? Those customers seem to be thriving. They actually have a belief in what they are doing. Profit for shareholders isn’t the primary focus. Don’t get me wrong, profit is important – but it shouldn’t be the primary focus of a company, especially when your whole marketing foundation is based on supporting local farmers. Stand for something why don’t you?
I want to be clear about three things:
- There is a growing local food movement and people want to know where their food is coming from.
- Family owned farms and businesses are becoming viable thanks to this local food movement.
- Dishonest people are improving profits by appearing to support items #1 and #2.
Granted, I think when a restaurant or grocer decides to truly buy local there is an initial shock. It isn’t cheap and it isn’t easy. Higher cost is only part of the issue. Think about it, there are large corporations in the food industry that squeeze out pennies of cost at every corner. They are very efficient at serving the needs of a chef or grocery buyer. One stop shopping and cheap eggs, meat, cheese, produce – you name it. One call, one order, one bill, one delivery. To quote Brooks from The Shawshank Redemption, “Easy peasy japaneasy.” Large corporations and distributors are in place to serve your every need as a grocery store or chef.
Contrast that with truly buying local. You have a multiple vendors, personalities, capabilities, inconsistent delivery schedules – oh, and throw in seasonal produce – it becomes a whole job in and of itself. Chefs that buy local spend WAY more time calling vendors, chasing down produce, and trying to keep a menu for over a week.
The buy local movement has certainly helped our sales at the maple farm. And we’d like to thanks those that are true to their convictions. In my very first blog, I want to point out Chef Nate Fagnilli of Crosswinds Grille. He truly buys local. Everything is local. He isn’t faking local. If it is not in season, it is not on the menu. Oh, and he needs a raise to cover the additional time he spends chasing me down for firewood or maple syrup.