White Meadows Farm, near St. Catherines, Ontario (Canada)

What’s a “Sugar Bush”?

A “Sugar Bush” is a farm (of sorts) where sap is harvested from maple trees and used to make various products. But it’s not like a traditional farm or orchard where crops are cultivated in neat rows. This is a wild forest that is simply being “tapped” for one of its resources. The White Meadows Farm, spanning over 200 acres in the fertile land between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, has been in operation here for over 75 years through four generations of the Bering family. The current leaders, Richard and Amanda, took over from Richard’s parents, Murray and Ann, just 3 years ago.

We had a chance to talk with Richard and Amanda for a while as they patrolled the woods and supervised the operation and the challenges of collecting a year’s worth of product (and income) in just 4-6 weeks each year, as well as how they adapted through the Covid pandemic.

Photo: Town of Pelham

But this post is really about OUR experience at the sugar bush…

Everything Smells Amazing…

Right from the moment we arrived, pulling into an ample parking lot adjacent to the main facilities at the farm, everything smelled like breakfast. A stead plume of smoke billowed out of the evaporation building that didn’t smell of smoke at all, because it isn’t. It’s just vapor from the sap, which starts out as 97% water, being converted to a substance that is 70-85% sugar.

When this process was first developed by the Anishinaabeg (a group of culturally related indigenous peoples present in the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States), this process could take a week or more just to produce a couple gallons of syrup. With modern advances, the same process takes only an hour and in quantities far greater than a mere gallon.

After checking in, we waited by the fire and chatted with a few others. We were lucky that the weather was so nice (a bright, sunny day around 50°F). It was not warm enough to leave the coats in the car, but we did take them off for several portions of the day.

At the scheduled time, the “Sugar Shuttle” arrived to take us out into the woods.

Into The Woods…

We were dropped off at a trailhead where we were met by Abby, who walk us to our campsite, just a short hike away. There, we found a fire already warm and everything we needed to be comfortable while we ate the food they’d prepared for us.

Here’s a video from the farm themselves about the whole thing:

And here are a few of our own pictures from the lunch:

Overall, we loved the food, but felt like we didn’t have quite enough time to enjoy it and the fire before it was time to move on, so move of it ended up coming home as leftovers. But that is a minor complaint. As we learned from our conversation with Richard and Amanda later, these “campout lunches” were an adaptation to the pandemic. Before, they would do the traditional pancake meal in the main building, but with indoor dining not an option for so long, they created this as a way for people to still come and eat on the farm. And honestly, it was a big part of why we picked this spot over others. The variety and quality of the food was fantastic and we LOVED that every bit of it was locally sourced.

Bush Trek

After finishing lunch, we tacked on to a tour that had just begun and spent the next hour learning about the history of maple harvesting, in general. Along the way, we also got to watch them do the final steps of making maple taffy and then got to participate in a beloved Canadian ritual: taffy on snow. The fresh and VERY hot taffy is scooped straight out of the pot and poured onto some snow, then gathered with a popsicle stick into a lollypop-like blob that we then spent the rest of the tour slowly savoring. (My GOD is it delicious.)

As a final treat, we got to handle a giant saw and cut a couple slices of tree to take home with us, which they kindly branded with a maple leaf so we’d remember where they came from.

Final Thoughts

Our day at the sugar bush was an absolute delight. It was great to finally get to see and participate in this cherished tradition for Canadian people young and old. It is something we would ABSOLUTELY take the chance to do again in the future and something I highly recommend you seek out if you are in the right part of North America during the early Spring.