Guest post by Kirstin van den Berg
A “Labor of Love” is how TimberSweet owners Ralph “Butch” and Amy Fideldy describe their relationship to maple sugaring in Minnesota. Nestled on a 60-acre hillside in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Butch and Amy tap 3,100 sugar maple trees to produce some of the best, award-winning maple syrup in the nation.
Butch got his start in sugar making as a youngster in the late 1950's, helping his father tap trees and collect maple sap on their family farm. Using a large, flat bottomed pan over an open fire, he learned early on how to boil maple sap into pure, delicious tasting maple syrup. Today, Butch and Amy use an elaborate tubing system for collecting sap. Their modern day sugar house contains a reverse osmosis system to concentrate the sap and a state-of-the-art evaporator system to cook down the sap into the sweet maple syrup.
Butch, and a family relative typically start tapping in mid-to-late February, but this year started tapping in December, while the snow depths were low and getting around in the sugar bush was easier. This all in preparation for the sap flows in March and April. Once the sap starts flowing, it’s all hands on deck. Early mornings will find Butch checking his tanks for sap that came in overnight and by evening they are boiling down the sap into maple syrup .
Butch and Amy are well known and respected in the Minnesota and North American sugaring community. They have won numerous awards at the state and national level, including a “Best of Show” and several first-place awards from the North American International Maple Syrup Competition for their maple syrup, maple cream, and maple sugar candy. To win these awards, TimberSweet products outperformed competitors from 16 states and four Canadian provinces, showing that Minnesota maple syrup is truly world class.
They readily share their wealth of experience and innovations with other sugar makers. When asked what advice they would give to new sugar makers, Butch and Amy say, “Make sure your sugar house is big enough, invest in good equipment, keep everything clean and boil your sap while it’s cold and fresh.”
Butch and Amy also grow blueberries and apples on their farm in Grand Rapids. They enjoy selling their goods at the Grand Rapids Farmer’s Market, and locally at their sugar house (by appointment).
Even though it’s hard work, Butch and Amy love making maple syrup and working out of doors. Butch warns that anybody new to sugar making to take care – once you’ve tried making real maple syrup, it’s in your blood forever. Indeed, it’s a “Labor of Love.”
Find TimberSweet and other Minnesota maple syrup producers in the MN Grown member directory!
In addition to the CSA, Food Farm supplies both Whole Foods Co-op locations in Duluth, the Cook County Co-op in Grand Marais, Mount Royal Market, and a few smaller grocery stores, as well as several of Duluth's best restaurants.