Personal-sized bottles of Chase Farms' maple syrup sit waiting for purchase at the farm's store. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Personal-sized bottles of Chase Farms’ maple syrup sit waiting for purchase at the farm’s store. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

WELLS — It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, said Rick Chase, owner of Chase Farms in Wells, as he prepared for Maine’s 34th annual Maine Maple Sunday on Thursday afternoon.

The annual event, held every fourth Sunday of March, is a chance for participating sugar houses to open their doors to visitors to enjoy the sweet stuff, watch syrup-making demonstrations and take tours of the sugarbushes.

For some farmers and maple producers, Maine Maple Sunday isn’t just a chance to share their craft with the general public — it’s a way to boost sales.

Rick Chase, of Chase Farms in Wells, stands next to his family's wood-fired maple sap evaporator on Thursday. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Rick Chase, of Chase Farms in Wells, stands next to his family’s wood-fired maple sap evaporator on Thursday. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

“A lot of your maple producers, some have been doing it for their only source of income. For some of the bigger operations … (Maine Maple Sunday) means a lot,” said Rick Chase of Chase Farms in Wells. “We mostly raise vegetables and beef cattle. Here, (making syrup) is a source of income, but it’s also fun.”

While fun for some, syrup is serious business in Maine.

Quigley the cattle herder, a fixture of Chase Farms, roams about the farm's sugarhouse Thursday, as farm workers and volunteers prepare for Maine Maple Sunday. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Quigley the cattle herder, a fixture of Chase Farms, roams about the farm’s sugarhouse Thursday, as farm workers and volunteers prepare for Maine Maple Sunday. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Maine’s maple syrup production has doubled since 2010. Last year saw 545,000 gallons of syrup produced, worth about $17.4 million.

There are 1.86 million maple taps across the state, contributing $48.7 million to the local economy. Maine has the third-largest syrup industry in the country, and Somerset County is the largest maple-producing county in the U.S., with 1.4 million taps.

Chase Farms, which has been family-owned and operated by the Littlefield-Chases since 1720, has been producing maple syrup off and on for years, but has only in recent years begun to expand its efforts commercially.

“We’ve done it for several years now, had an open house. We’ve always made a little syrup but not enough to sell,” Chase said.

Chase said making syrup was a way for the farm’s workers to pass the time in spring, in between major growing seasons.

“It’s another thing to do on the farm that time of year in March, when things are slow,” he said. “We work in the woods in the wintertime, so (making syrup) in the spring before we fill in the greenhouses, it kind of works in pretty good.

“It’s fun. We enjoy doing it,” he said.

And, at Chase Farms, things are done pretty traditionally.

“We like to do things the old-fashioned way,” Chase said. “We have draft horses here, so we use them to go through the woods to tap the trees, then use them to collect sap. We use them for tours as well.”

After the sap is collected, it’s taken to the farm’s large, wood-fired evaporator, where it is boiled off until it turns dark amber before it is bottled to pour over the perfect stack of pancakes.

At last year’s Maine Maple Sunday event, Chase said about 4,000 to 5,000 people visited his farm’s store, open the Saturday before Maple Sunday until Christmastime.

It’s a family affair, Chase said, and when asked why he’s continued his family’s legacy for so long, he took a minute to think.

“That’s a good question,” he joked. “It’s a satisfaction of working with the land and growing stuff and making a living off the land. It’s just very satisfying to see people come in and compliment on what you’ve done.

“It gives you a feeling of accomplishment,” he said.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]


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