DEKALB JUNCTION - This is the sweetest time of year for Brianne L. Tulley and her sister, Courtney A. Foote.
Winter has started to release its icy grip, which signals the start of the north countrys maple syrup-making season.
Its a busy time of year for the two sisters, but you wont hear them complaining.
Thats because producing maple syrup is more than just a hobby for the women and their parents, Lori A., and Jeffrey E. Jenness, operators of Orebed Sugar Shack, 503 Orebed Road. Its an activity that keeps family bonds strong and helps create new friendships.
We were still in diapers when we started helping out in the sugar house, Mrs. Tulley said. Now its in our blood.
This year, Mrs. Tulley, 27, and Mrs. Foote, 24, were both named Maple Person of the Year by the St. Lawrence County Maple Producers Association. The award was given at the organizations Feb. 2 banquet.
The two sisters have been actively involved in the maple industry at both the county and state levels for much of their lives.
Together they have worked as co-chairs to establish a strong Maple Queen and Maple Princess program in the county. In past years, they have each served as a county maple queen and a state maple queen, as well as alternates.
Mrs. Tulley serves as webmaster and secretary for the SLCMPA. Mrs. Foote has served as a delegate to the state Maple Producers Association and as a trustee for the North American Maple Museum. Shes now serving on the state Maple Producers Committee for Maple Royalty.
The sisters are third-generation maple producers. The familys involvement began with their grandparents, Laura McAdam of Gouverneur and the late E. Paul McAdam.
Mrs. Foote said she and her sister are very close and working together in the sugar shack helps them maintain that strong bond. Also, they both married husbands supportive of their interest in the maple syrup industry.
Its nice to know that once or twice a week during sugar season Ill get to spend time with my sister, Mrs. Foote said.
The two sisters were instrumental in helping the family to expand from just maple syrup into other products such as maple cream, maple candies, maple lollipops and granulated maple sugar.
Mrs. Foote recalled the 1998 ice storm that damaged so many maple trees the family didnt tap that year, which meant no maple syrup making until the following year.
It was awful, Mrs. Foote said.
More than two decades ago, the girls and their family started on a small scale, with about 50 buckets on the family operation on Country Club Road, Gouverneur. As the family grew, the number of buckets increased and eventually some gravity-fed tubing was added.
In 1999, they moved with their family to Orebed Road where their 109-acre property included a 45-acre sugar bush full of red maple and sugar maple trees. In 2006 a new heated sugar shack was built where visitors can purchase maple products and gift certificates.
Technology has helped the Orebed Sugar Shack operation grow. The family business now has 1,600 taps on vacuum tubing. The sap is filtered and processed with a reverse osmosis machine. Boiling is done in an oil-fired evaporator with pre-heater wood and automatic draw-off. Since the operation follows organic regulations, the products are certified organic.
The sap recently started flowing in the Orebed sugar bush, but the family hasnt started boiling yet.
The Orebed Sugar Shack will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for Maple Weekend activities March 16-17 and March 23-24.
There is no charge, and activities include candy-making demonstrations, maple samples, and information about how the equipment works.
Details about the Orebed Sugar Shack can be found on Facebook, on the website www.orebedsugarshack.com or by calling 347-3415. Information about other area maple producers that will be open maple weekend can be found at mapleweekend.com.