Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters
By Camila Chaparro
You hear the lament frequently enough: kids these days don’t know where their food comes from. Since having children of my own and wanting to raise happy and healthy eaters, I’ve sought out local farms where my sons can get a glimpse of where the food on their plate originates. This past summer we stumbled upon some gems like Hornstra Dairy Farm in Norwell, MA where we enjoyed generous scoops of homemade ice cream, awed at the doe-eyed calves in the barn, and marveled at the size of the dairy cows; and C.N. Smith Farm in East Bridgewater MA where in early fall, pulled along by our excited 2-year old, we quickly filled our bag with Macintosh apples, and visited with the goats, chickens and horses. Now, just barely into spring (and March being maple month), what could be more quintessentially New England than visiting a maple farm?
Recently, we made a trip to Matfield Maple Farm, in West Bridgewater, the only commercial sugar-house south of Boston. The farm offers roughly 45-minute tours on Saturdays and Sundays for the public (and during the week for groups), which show the process of taking tree sap to syrup. We arrived on a chilly, but beautifully sunny Sunday in time for the noon tour (there is also a tour at 2pm), and got to know the farm’s resident llamas while we waited for our tour to assemble. Once our group of roughly twenty adults and children was ready, Rich Forbes, the owner of Matfield Maple Farm, led us down a path alternating between ice, mud, snow and wood planks, into the woods.
After stopping to hear about the natural springs found on the property, the adults and older children in the group stooped to avoid plastic tubing strung across the path, connecting tree to tree. At our second stop, at the sap collection tank, Rich explained how plastic taps and tubing have replaced the buckets traditionally used to collect maple syrup. The tubes lead to a collection tank, set on the lowest part of the property to collect all the running sap which is then pumped up to the sugar-house. While Rich told the history about the discovery of maple syrup by the Native Americans in Massachusetts, we each got a taste of sap, something I’d never tasted before. If I hadn’t been told that the thin, clear, colorless, faintly sweet liquid was maple sap, I would’ve never guessed!
After completing a loop through the woods, we ended up at the sugar house, where Amanda, Rich’s daughter, gave us an explanation of how the sap that is pumped up to the house is turned into the maple syrups, candies and cream they make and sell. She explained how the wood-fire slowly heats the sap into syrup, how many gallons of sap are needed for 1 gallon of syrup (you’ll have to go yourself to find out!), and showed the clear liquid changing to the familiar amber syrup we all know. After a taste of the final product—I swear it tasted “fresher” than the maple syrup I buy at the store–we all stocked up on maple syrup, maple candies, lollipops and sugar on sale in the gift shop. Next time I’m definitely trying the maple cream.
The tour was informational and fun and I think a good length for short attention spans of children. The easy walk in the woods provided ample entertainment (my son said it was his favorite part of the tour) as well as welcome fresh air after too much time cooped up inside this winter. While one can be told that maple syrup comes from trees, the sensory experiences of being out in the woods, tasting the sap, smelling the wood burning in the sugarhouse and tasting the syrup adds a whole different level of understanding.
The “sugaring” season, while always unpredictable, has been delayed this year because of the epic winter we had and Rich estimates they’ll be making syrup into April. But this final weekend of March is the last weekend for tours, so if you’re looking for a fun afternoon activity with (or without) kids, get down to the farm!
Matfield Maple Farm
107 Matfield St. West Bridgewater, MA
Tours are Saturday and Sunday at noon and 2pm. Arrive a few minutes early to register. $7 per person (children under 3 are free).
Do you visit local farms with your children? Where have you gone that appealed to your family? Please comment below or email me your suggestions for farms to visit at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Camila Chaparro is a recent transplant to Massachusetts; she lives in Milton with her husband and two young sons. Her interest in food and other cultures led to a career in international nutrition, shelves overflowing with cookbooks, and entirely too much kitchen equipment. An ideal day for her would include coffee, a trip to the farmers’ market, exploring a new place and a delicious dinner shared with family and friends.