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As winter transitions into spring in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, a sweet and sticky excitement fills the air, signaling the start of sap season and the beloved tradition of maple syrup harvesting. According to father-son duo Mark and Bradley Danielson, there’s a lot to be done.
At Danielson’s Sugarbush in Nisula, Michigan, the syrup process is a day-in, day-out, year-round endeavor. There’s the tapping of the trees, a lengthy process that involves walking along the woods, hanging up, and inspecting sap tubing. The sap then travels through the tubes to their facility, where it goes through a reverse osmosis machine and evaporator.
Because of the high mineral content in sap, the evaporator’s pans must be changed up to three times a day. Danielson’s uses no harsh chemicals in the cleaning process and chooses organic safflower oil to defoam the sap, in order to bring you a certified-organic syrup from start to finish.
The syrup is then tested for sugar content using a refractometer, taste-tested for perfection, and bottled in-house. Mark comments that what gets selected for bottling is their “best stuff”, which then heads to the Keweenaw and Marquette food co-ops.
And when they’re not making syrup?
“We’re getting ready to make syrup again,” said Mark and Bradley in unison.
Danielson’s acreage spans dozens of miles featuring 100-year-old real Maple sap trees. The endeavor inherently involves a deep love for the woods and its wildlife: Danielson’s uses a small diameter spout for sapping that doesn’t damage the tree, and no longer uses heavy machinery on the acreage because of its toll on the woods and its inhabitants. Mark comments that although the occasional curious bear will bite the tubing to see what it is, bears, coyotes, and other wildlife coexist peacefully within the sap operation.
“Usually, you can just see their tracks, because they know you’re there. But occasionally, if you’re real quiet, you can see one up close. I’ve seen them. But they won’t bother you,” muses Mark.
The company is now focused on streamlining the process in preparation for when the elder half of its team retires. You can enjoy the fruits of Mark and Bradley’s year-round labors by choosing Danielson’s Sugarbush maple syrup at the Keweenaw Co-op, family-owned and made from real Keweenaw sap, taste-tested to perfection and hand-delivered to the Co-op for over 20 years.
Nisula, MI 49952
Photos and article by: Lily Venable