Walton's Freedom Syrup enjoys record growth, donations - June 15, 2017
BY DENNY SCOTT
For the past eight years, Freedom Maple Syrup has been contributing to the Families of the Fallen Soldiers fund and, last year, the organization marked a tenfold increase in its annual donation over its first year.
Since its inception eight years ago, Freedom Syrup has gone from donating $1,500 a year to more than 10 times that in 2015 and 2016 at $15,500 and $16,000 respectively. Between 10 and 12 core volunteers, as well as anyone who visits the bush, make between 150 and 160 gallons of syrup annually and sell it to raise money for the Families of the Fallen Soldiers fund.
Bob Rowe, a long-standing member of the organization, explained that the group first made syrup in 2010 and had intended on just providing syrup to friends and families, but it has grown into something else.
Rowe said the site where the syrup is made was the location of a previously-used sugar shack.
“It was built by Gordon McGavin, but they quit making syrup there in 1945. Sixty-five years later we started it up again.”
Rowe explained he spoke to Neil McGavin, Gordon’s son about rebuilding the shack on the property of Neil’s son Jeff.
“We cleared away the old shack and built it exactly where the original shack was in 1945,” he said.
Eight years ago, Rowe had no idea that he would be involved in making maple syrup the way he is now.
“The idea then was to make a bit of syrup just for fun, for the experience,” he said. “We just wanted to give away what we made to family and friends and it was going to be free. We just wanted to say we have had the experience of making the syrup and being in the bush.”
Rowe explains, however, that the evaporator the group acquired, an essential part of the syrup-making process, was able to handle more sap than what the volunteers tapped.
“In the first year, we tapped 275 trees,” he said. “We were going to make more syrup than we would be able to give away or eat ourselves.”
Rowe said the idea to sell the syrup to benefit the Families of the Fallen Soldiers fund came after that as a result of a workplace tradition of his.
“I’ve always supported the troops on Friday with Red Friday,” he said.
Red Friday is both an organized charity and a practice. The idea behind the program is that people wear red on Fridays to support those who serve the country through military service.
“It’s a personal thing, and I’ve done it for years,” he said. “I thought maybe we could do more for the troops, so we talked about it in the bush and that’s how we got started.”
He said there were many charities or causes the syrup company could support, but he felt that the one organizers chose is important because it recognizes both those who are serving, those who have served and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice during service.
From there, the organization grew. Capital investments were made increasing the main line and now the volunteer group traditionally taps 715 trees annually to hit the target of 150 to 160 gallons of finished product.
“It’s a big volunteer organization,” he said. “It’s a forum that allows people to support the cause and feel good about what they’re doing.”
Rowe explained that, on top of the volunteers at the site on a regular basis during syrup season, anyone who shows up may be asked to help out.
“The rule is that if you visit the bush and you’re there for longer than a half hour, we will put you to work,” he said.
The joy the group gets from helping out is partly from supporting Canada’s armed forces and partly from doing a great job doing it, Rowe said.
“The thing about our product is you get value for your donation,” he said. “We have some of the best syrup made in Huron County and you feel good about helping the people that are fighting for your freedom.”
Rowe said the only real connection he has to those serving the country is that he wants to give back to them. He had a great uncle serve in World War I, but really, the drive to help these people is something that he wants.
In July, for example, his workplace, the Hensall Co-op, will be fundraising for the Families of Fallen Soldiers. Employees will pay $5 and be able to wear jeans to work on Fridays.
“There’s tragedy throughout the world and I think that now, more than ever, the threat of terrorists makes it imperative that we support those individuals past and present that keep us safe,” he said.
Some syrup is still available through McGavin’s Farm Equipment, Rowe said, as is barbecue sauce made with the syrup, a new product for this year.
“The goal is to have it all gone by Christmas,” he said. “We don’t hold product over. We don’t usually have to. Whether it’s because they feel good using syrup that supports the troops or whether it’s just as good as people say it is, we’re told that people have never had syrup that tasted better.”