One of the very, very few farms in my book that I didn’t visit is Maple Creek Farm outside of Burnsville, which has the country’s southernmost commercial “sugar bush,” the name for a grove of sugar maple trees. (Long story on how I didn’t make it there while touring Yancey County; another time. I did send my spies there to check the place out for the book.) So if you go to their awesome annual Maple Tour – Feb. 19 and 20 this year, which is next weekend – let me know how it was.
Though the 106-acre farm grows vegetables and raises pigs, its claim to fame is the rich sap that runs in its trees. It started in 2007, when then farm manager and forester Richard Sanders started to tap sugar maples for syrup every February. He started with a few taps and not much syrup and over the years grew to around 500 taps and close to 100 gallons of syrup. “Up north they tap with buckets, but here it’s way too hilly and rocky,” Richard told me in 2009. To solve that problem, he ran three miles of tubing through the grove to tap the trees, whose sap flows by gravity. He also grew sorghum cane and made sorghum syrup every fall. I hope that tradition will continue now that Richard has departed.
You, dear readers, get to witness the mad science at work. From 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. next weekend ($5 adults, kids under 12 free), you can get a tour of the “Sugar Shack” where they boil down the syrup, and hike up the hill to see some of their maple trees, taps, and sap lines. If that’s not exciting enough, their two donkeys, Sally and Jack, will also be entertaining visitors and syrup will be sampled with sausage and pancakes, with coffee, tea and cider.
Tip from the farm: Wear boots, because it will probably be muddy. Parking is limited (and also muddy), so carpool if you can. Wear warm clothing, too, ‘cuz it’s cold up thar.
An aside: The farm is owned by John Swann, who joined Greenlife Grocery founder Chuck Pruett to open the Asheville Greenlife store in 2004. Last year Whole Foods bought Greenlife, so who knows how that awesome locally owned chain will change.