Maple Days one way Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center promotes Wisconsin Agriculture

Michelle Stangler
Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producer's Association Executive Director Theresa Baroun provides samples of different grades to guests at Maple Days.

Across Wisconsin, thousands of sugar maple trees are being tapped to draw out the sap which is then transformed into amber colored Maple syrup. Right now Wisconsin Maple Month which run through April 15 is in full swing.

And to celebrate the state's rank among the top five maple syrup producing states in the country (it ranks fourth), Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center gave visitors a glimpse into the maple-syrup making process during Maple Days.

The event attracted over 250 people to the center with activities to learn about all facets of the process including sugar content in sap, tasting different grades of maple syrup, tapping a maple tree, viewing videos throughout the discovery area, and attending nearby sugarbushes.

Families and adults were curious and ready to learn about the importance Maple Syrup has to the state of Wisconsin.

Throughout the maple syrup season, Jesse and Margo Wagner take a sample from every batch boiled. Currently, maple trees are producing a lighter sap color and will darken as the season progresses.

Katie Kadlec of Shawano says Maple Days was a good opportunity for family time with her four children. Fellow parent, Matthew Berghuis of Appleton agrees, saying while he grew up on a family farm, his kids have not had the experience to learn about agriculture outside the classroom. "They're loving it," he said.

At the event kids and adults experienced first-hand how important Maple Syrup is to the state of Wisconsin. In 2021, Wisconsin ranked fourth nationwide for maple syrup production with 300,000 gallons according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. Additionally, the report notes that in 2021, Wisconsin's maple syrup season began on February 20, compared to this year's much slower start to the season. 

Sugar bushes hopeful for '22 season

A stand of trees tapped for sap to make maple syrup are commonly referred to as a sugar bush. One sugar bushes that opened its doors to guests was Inthewoods Sugar Bush in Manitowoc County. Jesse and Margo Wagner are the owners and have experienced some sap flowing, but not enough.

“The season has been very slow,” said Jesse Wagner, adding, “it didn’t even really start yet.”

Wagner says the slow start to the season is likely due to the cold weather, but says he got sap about a week ago, but not enough to boil. This week may change with warming temperatures across the state. Sap flows when daytime temperatures rise above freezing and when nighttime temperatures fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Jesse and Margo Wagner, owners of Inthewoods Sugar Bush, opened their doors to many people with their event in partnership with the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center.

March 11 marked Wagner's first day of boiling, not the latest start to the season he has seen. In his sugarbush, Wagner tracks year to year production levels including his first day of boiling. Over the past three years, Wagner has made the following entries for first boiling days: March 3, 2021; Feb. 23, 2020 and March 13, 2019.

MORE: First official tree tapping kicks off maple syrup season

MORE: Maple syrup season is here. Tap trees and taste syrup at these events in Wisconsin in 2022

Wagner says he tapped 1,000 trees on his 20-acre property the second weekend of February. He also purchases 2,500 trees worth of sap. In 2021, Inthewoods Sugar Bush boiled 74,000 gallons of sap to make 1,600 gallons of syrup. During his open house, he says one of the fun parts to maple syrup production is educating people about the process.

“I do it because I really enjoy taking something out of nature and making a pure product that’s 100% Mother Nature,” he said. “It’s a passion for me.”

During his open house in partnership with the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center, Wagner saw a better turnout than the past two years.

Wagner says he enjoys spending time with consumers during his open house talking maple giving people an understanding of what maple syrup really is and how it works.

"Some people are shocked of what really goes on here," he said.

Maple Days only the beginning

Not only is Maple Days a way for Wisconsinites to engage with agriculture, there are many other events planned throughout the year.

Abigail Martin, program manager of the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center, says the plan for 2022 is present events highlighting many of Wisconsin’s agricultural commodities. She says the partnerships that been created allow these type of events to happen.

Abigail Martin

“These collaborations have allowed us to highlight different industries and bring our guests, and the audience we have, to connect them to the farmers and processors that are the ones growing and raising their food,” says Martin.

The number of events this year compared to 2020 and 2021 continues to expand, says Martin. Her role is look at the calendar and see what else can be added to encourage people to come explore the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center. She says she’s already looking at fall events to attract participants to come and learn more about Wisconsin agriculture.

The Discovery Center offers a wide variety of activities to do, but with the Wisconsin Café now opened after temporarily closing, it allows guests to complete the farm to table experience.

Martin says after visitors explore the Land O’Lakes Birthing Barn and the many exhibits, they can complete the journey by sampling foods from Wisconsin in the café. She says they source products locally such as using meat within Manitowoc County and using greens that were grown using aquaponics in the state of Wisconsin.

The menu offers foods like a Wisconsin Salad, Charcuterie Board, Beer Battered Cheese Curds, and sometimes offers specials. With this weekend being Maple Days, the Wisconsin Café offered the Stuffed French Toast with Maple Cream.

Not only is the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center open to families, it offers the opportunity for anyone to be connected to Wisconsin agriculture.

“We are trying to cater to all ages,” says Martin and adds the center is, “looking to target all ages and meet people where they are.”

With their busiest times being when kids are not at school, Spring Break and Summer are times to interact with students. Currently, Martin says it’s been picking up more with the amount of field trips, group tours, and more interest in their conference center.

Maple Days at Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center was one way to interact with more consumers as the season for maple syrup begins.