BY SARA KEDDY
Kings County Advertiser/Register
Making money is “on the tip of our tongues,” says Adam Hutchinson.
The family’s four-year-old operation in Lake Paul is making big moves to bring the surrounding forest’s sweet sap into its boilers and turn it into more than maple syrup.
From a couple thousand trees tapped in year one to 10,000 last year to 25,000 this season, extending its lines 100 miles through maple stands; from 40 barrels of syrup last year, to a hoped for 130 this season; from a couple hired helpers during the season last year to set lines, haul sap and run the boilers to eight guys working a week of eight-hour days in the woods alone, with some boiling days underway at 6 a.m. and finishing up at 3 a.m. “We want to go to the next level,” Hutchinson says.
“We want to provide employment for people here, and down in the Valley, have the value-added products and always better ourselves and become more efficient.”
Hutchinson’s parents, Chris and Anna, are truckers, on the road most every day of the year. They bought the Lake Paul property a few years ago and have been putting their savings into an old house and barn, the woodlot, a mill, new orchards, wild blueberries and Christmas trees – and the maple syrup business. This is the first season there’s enough happening in just that segment to bring Adam and his wife, Vanessa, home from out west, with their new baby in tow.
“This is rural economic development – what we’ve been doing 100 per cent. We came home last fall and found not only a good thing for us, but we’re looking after my parents’ best interests,” Hutchinson says. “We’ll continue to expand as fast as possible. We don’t want to be just that self-sufficient farm and business, not just that bottle in the store.
“We’re finding ourselves in the industry, and everything is at the breaking point.”
A second oil-fired boiler added for this season means the operation could handle 75,000 taps down the road. There are automatic washers for the stainless steel lines and tanks, and a truck can haul 10,000 litres of sap out of the woods every day.
This is rural economic development – what we’ve been doing 100 per cent. - Adam Hutchinson
“We’re tapping into every resource available – the departments of agriculture, economic development, resources – to see what’s out there,” says Vanessa, who runs the books for the business. “This year, we’re looking to have some help with value-added products and niche markets.”
Kings West MLA Leo Glavine is a big fan of the enterprising Hutchinson family. He says Chris calls while on the road every day or so to talk about new ideas, what he’s seen in other places and plans he’s working on for the Lake Paul property. When he and Anna “retire,” they want to be here at home with a network of small business operations already established.
“This is one of my pet projects,” Glavine says, describing how he worked with Chris to secure land leases with government to reach more maple trees, a process with “frustrations.” In New Brunswick and Quebec, maple syrup operators are allowed to use the equity they put into the woods – the lines and equipment – to borrow and expand their businesses; not yet in Nova Scotia. It was also up to the Hutchinsons to pay for a manual survey of the Crown land in the lease.
“That cost almost $10,000, was a lot of work with surveyors in the woods – GPS is not allowed: we should be moving into the 21st century. The challenge is the process.
“You’d like to see it moving faster: here’s a credible investor, really the heart of what rural economic development can be – let’s find a way to assist them.”
Glavine and the Hutchinsons agree they’ve “come miles” in dealings with government requirements and programs: “progress is being made,” Glavine says.
Maple syrup has proven the most constant of agricultural products coming off the land for the last two decades, Glavine says, and Hutchinson is confident the market is underdeveloped.
“There are so many places we can go,” Hutchinson says. ”Us and the public can determine where we grow to.”