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, jointly were 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 sisters have been involved in the maple industry at the county and state levels for much of their lives. They have worked as co-chairwomen to establish a strong Maple Queen and Maple Princess program in the county. In past years, they each have served as a county maple queen and a state maple queen, as well as alternates.
Mrs. Tulley is webmaster and secretary for the county Maple Producers Association. Mrs. Foote has been a delegate to the state Maple Producers Association and a trustee for the American Maple Museum, Croghan. She also serves on the state Maple Producers Committee for Maple Royalty.
The sisters are third-generation maple producers. The familys involvement began with the womens maternal grandparents, Laura McAdam, 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. In addition, they both married men who support 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 sisters were instrumental in helping the family business expand from just maple syrup to 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.
It was awful, she 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 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 sugarbush full of red maple and sugar maple trees. In 2006, they built a heated sugar shack where visitors can purchase maple products and gift certificates.
Technology has helped the Orebed Sugar Shack to 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 sugarbush, 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 and 17 and March 23 and 24. There is no charge, and the weekends will include candy-making demonstrations, maple samples and information about how the equipment works.
Details about the Orebed Sugar Shack may 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 for Maple Weekend may be found at mapleweekend.com.