HOME PAGEUnique_Maine_Farms.html

What Makes the Newfield Sugarhouses Unique?

Twenty years ago in 1994,  the founder of the Unique Maine Farms’project wrote Newfield: Notes From Shady Nook.  This book was a collection of essays about the historical and natural resources of Newfield, Maine. One of the essays, entitled “Maple Sugaring” focused on the Bryant family and Ashley Gerry who were the two maple syrup producers in the author’s hometown of Newfield at the time. A reprinting of that essay is included on a webpage in this profile.

The theme of another essay in Newfield: Notes From Shady Nook shared the history of the old Bond Mountain Ski area owned by Harry and Debi Hartford.  It was a property where a maple sugar business once had thrived. Thirteen years after the maple sugaring essay was written, the production of maple syrup was reintroduced by the Hartfords at the Bond Mountain location with the opening of the Thurston and Peters Sugar House in 2007.

Although the tapping of trees figures quite predominantly in all three of these Newfield sugaring families, quite a bit has changed in the lives of the individuals profiled twenty years ago.   The Bryant family is still tapping trees, but the Hilltop Boilers’ business is primarily operated by Michael Bryant and his wife, Jen.  Michael is a technology teacher at Massabesic Middle School in Waterboro and he and Jen are the parents of three children including a set of twins.

Ashley Gerry and his wife, Leah, have three children, also including a set of twins.  Ashley works at Gerry and Sons Snowmobiles with his father, Gene Gerry, while Leah manages the Maple Hill Sugar House business.  Ashley was a founding member of the Southern Maine Maple Sugarmakers Association.

Harry Hartford fulfilled his lifelong dream of tapping the maple trees on Bond Mountain and making maple syrup like the Thurston’s and Peters’ families. Debi commented that she was willing to support that dream.  Both Harry and Debi Hartford retired from many years of teaching and now can be found operating the Thurston and Peters Sugar House on Route 11 at the foot of Bond Mountain in West Newfield. 

The state of Maine has the distinction of being the third largest producer of maple syrup in the country. While maple syrup sugar houses are quite abundant throughout the state, the presence of three flourishing commercial sugaring businesses in the small town of Newfield is disproportionate to the town’s small population of around 1500 residents.

Those who reside in Newfield are acutely aware of  how the town is transformed on Maine Maple Weekend during the last weekend of March.  Many would characterize Newfield as a sleepy, little town for most of the year.  While driving to the general store or local post office it would not be unusual to meet only one or two cars, if even that.  Traffic issues simply do not exist.

When Maine Maple Weekend arrives each year, the town is totally transformed. While many residents are sleeping, the lights and steam escaping from the sugar houses are evidence that the sugarmakers are often working into the early hours of morning. There are banners announcing sugar house open houses and signs pointing the way to various sugaring destinations in nearby Limerick and Parsonsfield.  The sides of the roads are often lined with cars as far as one can see.  (Michael Bryant said that they had 5200 visitors this year for Maine Maple Weekend). Buckets are attached to the maple trees throughout town and clear blue tap lines can be observed in  meandering patterns through various sections in the woods.  Newfield residents are not used to any types of traffic tie-ups throughout the year, but they are fully aware that Maine Maple Weekend is an exception to the norm.

There are several common characteristics of the three sugar houses that are situated in Newfield.  All three maple syrup farms are members of the Southern Maine Maple Sugarmakers Association. Ashley Gerry was one of the founding members of the organization and he presently serves as the vice-president. Debi Hartford presently serves as secretary of the organization. All three sugar houses are also members of the Maine Maple Producers Association.  Michael Bryant presently serves as secretary/treasurer of the organization. After spending quite a bit of time at each sugar house, there is no question that all of the maple syrup producers work extremely hard.  While the Bryants have 400 taps on tubing they still tap the “old-fashioned” way with 800 buckets.

Each of the sugar house owners will probably share the fact that people will comment that using tap lines is “the easy way” to harvest sap.  In many respects, nothing could be further from the truth.  The tap lines present a whole bundle of challenges.  Harry and Debi Hartford display evidence on a table in their sugar house of just a sample of the tap lines that have been chewed and destroyed by the various woodland animals.  Large animals can barrel through the sap line and cause it to be disconnected and also damaged.  The freezing of tap lines in certain locations can prevent the sap from flowing. Some of the sap lines in the sugarbush can require a great deal of arduous climbing of steep hills when they need to be monitored and repaired.  While snowshoes can prove beneficial in many conditions, there are times when they sink down, as well. Spouts are often replaced on a yearly basis.  The drop lines are often replaced every two to three years and the main lines need to be replaced after several years.

Each of the sugar houses in Newfield have their own distinct style and individual way in approaching how they welcome visitors to their sugar house during Maine Maple Weekend.  At Hilltop Boilers, the Bryant family and their many volunteers schedule an assortment of activities.  In 2014, they offered a timed race for children to carry a bucket of water around a small obstacle course simulating what it would be like to carry a bucket of sap.  There were door prizes and a scavenger hunt for children.  In the morning free mini pancakes with maple syrup were offered and in the afternoon it was ice cream samples and maple syrup that were provided. Two John Deere tractors were positioned in the yard on which children were welcome to climb and have their picture taken.  Musical entertainment was  provided throughout the day by Red Flannel Hash and Ali Kyle.  Long lines formed outside their Maple Shop where an assortment of maple syrup products are sold in over thirty types of decorative glass bottles.  Maple syrup, maple candy, maple granulated sugar, maple beans, maple books, maple pancake mix, maple whoopie pies, and maple fudge are sold.  The process of boiling sap was demonstrated in the sap house and their beef cattle and pigs could be viewed in the barn.  There was a Guess the Weight of the Pigs contest, as well.

At Maple Hill Sugar House, children enjoyed having their face or hands painted.  Many family members and volunteers were helping to distribute all types of samples of maple goodies. At the Snack Hut visitors could purchase homemade maple baked beans, hot dogs, and beverages including hot cider. Door prizes were offered. Inside the sugar house, which was filled with an assortment of maple syrup in various bottles and containers, there was a large supply of freshly-made cotton candy that hung in clear plastic bags from the ceiling. Visitors could enjoy exploring the sugar grove. The tap lines ran down to a sap collection site. Tours were being given of the boiling process. The old fashioned-way of boiling sap over an outside fire was demonstrated in a clearing besides the woods.  Maple products sold at the Maple Hill Sugar House include maple syrup in all different types of containers, maple beans, maple books, maple candy, maple cotton candy, and maple cream.

At Thurston and Peters Sugar House this past Maine Maple Weekend, a sign welcomed visitors

with the greeting that the Hartfords’ goal was to provide “education and enjoyment” about the maple syrup process.  Their maple syrup shop is filled with photos and mementos of the history attached to their Bond Mountain property.  As former teachers, Harry and Debi seem to relish any opportunity to educate visitors about the process of tapping trees.  The Thurston and Peters Sugar House is uniquely constructed.  Visitors enter through a welcoming maple syrup/gift shop area.  They then can proceed to the area where the evaporator is situated.  Access to the upstairs allows the visitor to observe the holding tanks and also provides a great view below. Although the Hartfords choose not to boil sap during Maine Maple Weekend, they offer samples of their specialty -maple soft serve.  That weekend they also sell maple cotton candy.  Throughout much of the warmer months of the year they have become a popular destination for their maple syrup products and their maple soft serve. They also carry Shaker Pond ice cream and offer outside seating.  According to Debi, “Adding an ice cream take out gave us a way to use our building more than two months out of the year, educate summertime visitors about maple syrup production, and to give an audience to our maple syrup!” Other products that they carry include all different containers of maple syrup, maple cream, maple candy, maple Needhams, jams, honey, handmade bells and handcrafted items, and a selection of maple books.

While the three Newfield sugar houses are occupied with gathering the sap and making the syrup, another group of individuals in town become involved with celebrating the maple sap harvest.  The dedicated volunteers from the Newfield Fire Department, Newfield Rescue Squad, and the Newfield Auxiliary host the Annual Newfield Pancake Breakfast at the Public Safety Building each year on Maine Maple Sunday. They remove all the emergency vehicles from the building and set up many tables and chairs and serve a delicious pancake breakfast.  People navigate to the breakfast from all locations and enjoy the camaraderie and good food. This fundraiser has become a most enjoyable tradition for many individuals and families to celebrate the arrival of spring and the maple sap harvest.   The story of gathering sap in the Newfield area goes way back to the time of the Native Americans.  Making maple syrup is an undertaking which plays an important role from both a social and economic perspective and it adds richness and flavor to the history and culinary creations of a small rural town in western Maine.

      Newfield Sugarhouses
Newfield Comes AliveNewfield_Comes_Alive%21.html
Newfield Town Pancake BreakfastNewfield_Pancake_Breakfast.html
Maple Sugaring in NewfieldNewfield_-_Reprint_-Maple_Sugaring.html