by Joanna Hamblin
Photographs by: Katie Noble
Turtle Lane Maple Farm is part sugarhouse, part classroom and part miracle of Mother Nature. The team of Paul Boulanger and Kathy Gallagher are not what you’d call typical farmers. Paul, a finance and business operations executive (and a former member of the board of Directors at Massachusetts Maple Producers Association) and Kathy, a process management senior director, are as comfortable in the boardroom as they are in the maple sugar room (one they designed, financed and built themselves).
How did they come to own the farm? “Sometimes we ask the question, do we own the farm or does the farm own us? We live on one acre on a quiet cul-de-sac in North Andover that, although zoned for agriculture, hasn’t seen farming for as far back as i can research.”
What started as a family trip to New Hampshire to experience the production of maple syrup eventually led them to start their own operations in 2004, complete with a first-rate tour of the process. “A formal tour covering history, social studies, math, science and agriculture, which lasts about an hour and integrates a few tasty samples” of the various maple products to the over 2,500 visitors received during the peak month of March, is not to be missed.
“What I am trying to say is, we didn’t buy a farm, we created one,” Paul adds. When asked how they came up with the name, he says, “because we couldn’t think of a cool name like Google or Amazon. No, really, we live on Turtle Lane and we make maple products.”
This is what makes the farm so unique: a focus on education and sharing, rather than high yields and profit margins. The tour is free—though laughing at Paul’s bad jokes could be seen as a form of payment to thank him and his family for the countless sleepless nights during the maple season when he and his fiancée, Kathy, leave their day jobs to become maple farmers. “Our goal financially is that the farm will be able to sustain itself, but given that we have access to a limited number of trees, we will never get much bigger than we are (which is totally fine with us).”
As they do not depend on the farm for their income, “Kathy and i built the [sugarhouse] with the primary purpose of tours and education, rather than efficiency and production.” Even so, the production yields approximately 90 gallons of maple syrup—depending on Mother Nature, of course.
Paul explains that “in order for a tree to generate maple sap, it needs to be cold at night (in the 20s) and warm during the day (in the 40s). The difference of temperature creates pressure in the tree which leads to sap flow.” March is the month for extreme temperature variations, and “flow days” can range from 11 to over 20, again depending on weather.
Taking advantage of about 500 taps throughout north Andover and favorable temperatures, Turtle Lane Maple Farm can yield approximately 500 gallons of sap in one day (40 gallons of sap yields one gallon of syrup). So where does all that sap come from?
“As far as the trees we tap, about half are on private property where the owners have agreed to let us tap their trees, and the other half is on town property where the Board of Selectman have allowed us to tap town trees,” Paul adds, as part of their school outreach effort. That’s a pretty sweet deal!
And to be sure, all of the goodies “come from only one ingredient: 100% natural maple sap” (primarily from Acer saccharum, sugar maple or Acer saccharinum, silver maple). You can find pure maple syrup in grades A and B, as well as maple cream, maple candy and other tasty treats. They also make maple sugar, which was “the primary source of sugar for New Englanders up until the industrial revolution,” Paul adds enthusiastically.
During the maple season, you can find their products in their sugarhouse and specialty stores and eating establishments in the area. Looking to tap back into our agrarian past, the farm’s community and education focus add to the growing interest in sustainability, especially in relation to local food production. The connection of local, seasonal food and the health of our communities, economies and environments is made especially tangible at this farm. With a combination of traditional and modern techniques, Turtle Lane Maple Farm offers visitors quite a lot to digest.
The work is physically demanding, though, and “volunteers are welcome,” Paul says with a chuckle. “Running this operation in the months of February (setup), March (processing) and April (cleanup), is a heavy task,” but it has its sweet rewards! to learn more about Turtle Lane Maple Farm or to plan your visit:
Turtle Lane Maple Farm
25 Turtle Lane
North Andover, MA 01845
Joanna Hamblin is a marketing consultant, focusing on the intersection of food, energy, sustainability and social media. She’s interested in learning how public policy, science and business best practices can be utilized for managing complex and intertwined environmental, social and economic issues. Joanna can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @GoodNatureGirl.