After visiting a New Hampshire maple farm with their family, Kathy Gallagher and Paul Boulanger’s kids wanted to make syrup at home in North Andover. Kathy, she says, told the kids “no way.” Then Paul sheepishly unloaded a pocket full of tree taps.
The family made it into a science project. Each night after work, the couple and their kids would head outside with flashlights and a clipboard to record the air temperature and measure collected sap. According to Kathy, the magic wore off for the kids after several days of record keeping.
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But Paul was hooked. “The boiling process, I had no idea. We were boiling on a gas grill in the backyard,” says Kathy. The next year the couple bought some used equipment, and put together a makeshift sugar shack. “We had this 10-by-12 plywood and plastic structure we built with stuff from Home Depot, with a ginormous evaporator in the middle,” she says. Curious neighbors started to stop by, then Boy Scouts and school groups, huddled inside the tiny hut, which heated up to over 100 degrees. Within a couple years the visitor count crept up to 500 a season.
Then she gave Paul an ultimatum. “We need to do this right or we are done — you decide,” she says she told him. The following year, 2006, they obtained a building permit. “The next thing you know an excavator is showing up in the driveway and Paul is driving it like a little 5-year-old on a Tonka truck,” says Kathy. The pair built the 24-by-40-foot building themselves, except for the concrete floor, which was poured by a local firefighter.
Turtle Lane Farm now produces about 115 gallons of syrup from over 500 taps at seven collection sites, from town land to North Andover backyards of generous residents. Kathy and Paul host up to 3,600 visitors a year at their backyard sugar shack, all at no cost. The duo both work full-time in corporate jobs. “It’s not like we make money off of this,” says Paul. “Many years it costs us money, this year probably being one of them.”
With this frigid New England winter, the sap will stay frozen in the trees much longer than usual. “With what Mother Nature has thrown us, it would be very easy to throw in the towel, and skip it this year,” says Paul. But they already signed on with schools. “The third-graders are coming for a field trip and it’s worked into their math and science curriculum. We hate to disappoint people.”
“The whole purpose of this is community education, not because we are maple syrup freaks,” says Kathy. “I hardly even eat the stuff.” She doesn’t eat pancakes either.
Turtle Lane Maple Farm, 25 Turtle Lane, North Andover, 978-258-2889, www.turtlelanemaplefarm.com
Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
The Sugar Shack in North Andover.
‘The whole purpose of this is community education, not because we are maple syrup freaks.’