Domtar is working to build circular economies at each of our mills. In the past several years, the Windsor Mill has gone to great lengths to close its sustainability loop and nurture the forests that support its operations and the people that live and work in the surrounding area. That includes a partnership with local maple syrup producers.
The Windsor Mill is one of Canada’s last fully integrated pulp and paper mills, which means it owns forestland — 400,000 acres of it — to support its operations. The mill manages its forests for multiple uses, selectively harvesting trees about once every 20 years. The mill has developed partnerships for the forests to benefit the larger community during the two decades of growing time. One of these partnerships was formed in 2016 to allow local maple syrup producers to harvest sap from the large stands of sugar maples that dominate the land.
Since starting its partnership with local syrup makers like Simon Bellegarde five years ago, the Domtar forest’s more than 140,000 taps have yielded enough tree sap to make about 33,000 U.S. gallons of maple syrup each year.
“The Windsor Mill and our forest lands are an important part of the surrounding community,” Mill Manager Sylvain Bricault says. “The essence of sustainability is to create and preserve long-term value, and this partnership is doing just that. It’s a small but meaningful way to use our land to benefit those around us, and we are proud to be able to make that contribution to the circular economy.”
Photos courtesy of Martin Menard/TNC
Take a walk through that forest today, following the intricate maze of plastic tubes that collect the sap used to make the syrup, and you’ll meet maple syrup producers Simon Bellegarde and Annie Grenier from nearby Audet, Quebec. They produce FSC®- and SFI®-certified organic maple syrup exclusively from the 25,000 taps on sugar maples they rent on Domtar’s land.
March marks the beginning of the six-week harvesting window, and they’re busy collecting sap to start making syrup. Bellegarde spoke about his business and relationship with Domtar and the Windsor Mill.
Thank you for taking time to speak with us. How long have you been making maple syrup?
It is a family passion. My grandfather and my father had a sugar bush also. It was a dream for me to own my own sugar bush. When I was young, I remember going with my grandfather and my father to the sugar bush and working with them.
How long have you been making syrup from the sugar maples in Domtar’s forest?
It was too expensive to buy my own sugar bush, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to rent a part of the Domtar’s forest land. I started my partnership with Domtar at the end of 2016. In 2017, I installed my maple syrup equipment and built my sugar shack. My first maple syrup production was in 2018.
Is syrup making a hobby, a side business or your main job?
Even though I still work construction during part of the year, with 25,000 sugar taps, it is more than a hobby; it is a business.
Tell us a little about the process to make syrup.
Pipe maintenance, repairs and inspection are performed during the fall. The tapping is done at the beginning of the year and the maple water is harvested around March. The sugar season takes place over about six weeks in March and April. The collected water passes through an inverted osmosis system to separate the sweet water, then the water is transferred to an evaporator to evaporate a maximum of water until it becomes the consistency of maple syrup.
How many gallons of maple syrup do you produce each season?
Last year was our best year. We produced 9,800 U.S. gallons. Our syrup is mostly sold to authorized buyers for a larger market.
How do you feel about Domtar’s sustainable forestry practices and our effort to make the land available for maple syrup producers like yourself?
It is easy to work with the Domtar foresters, and I have a very good relationship and collaboration with them. Domtar is a leader in forestry sustainability, and they have a good reputation for the way they harvest and manage the forests. I’m pleased by how they are harvesting the forest because, for my purpose, when they harvest, they respect the plan and they leave the strong and healthy trees. Because of Domtar, I was able to realize my dream and own my sugar bush to create my business. I wouldn’t be able to afford that without the opportunity Domtar has given me to rent their forest lands.