Local Family Taps Edina Maple Trees to Make Award-winning Syrup

The Sullivan family of Edina has discovered a sweet way to spend time together.

Time spent with family often creates sweet memories, but for one Edina family it creates sweet maple syrup, too. Jack and Lynne Sullivan are the parents of 11-year-old Emerson and 9-year-old twins Mason and Luke. In the springtime Jack and the boys tap maple trees in Edina and boil up a syrup that’s won a blue ribbon at the 2017 Minnesota State Fair. Jack Sullivan says it all started with an unusual present from his mother.

“My mother gave me a syrup-making kit as a gift,” Sullivan says. “It seemed like a fun thing to do with the boys that would get us all outside in early spring when the weather is still a little rough.” The first year they tapped two trees and made a quart of syrup. The operation expanded the next year, and they entered their syrup in the ribbon competition at the Minnesota State Fair. The competition is pretty serious and the first timers didn’t know what to expect so they were pleased to do so well. “The boys were really excited to win a blue ribbon,” he says.  

To further boost their output the next season, Sullivan started asking around in the neighborhood to find more trees to tap. “It’s been a great way to meet neighbors,” he says. The Sullivans trade award-winning syrup to neighbors in exchange for the opportunity to tap maples all over their Edina neighborhood. But, it isn’t all about socializing and fun … syrup making can be hard work.

For one thing, the blue bags they hang on the trees to collect the sap have to be checked every day and, while Emerson, Mason and Luke enjoy seeing whether they’ve had a good day or a bad day—or whether they’ve lost all the sap from the last 24 hours to a squirrel with a sweet tooth—some chilly spring evenings a boy just doesn’t feel like tromping around the neighborhood checking to see how the sap’s running.

But that’s part of the process. “They’re learning how much work it can be to get food to the table,” Sullivan says. “It makes them realize how we’re tied to the seasons. You can do a lot of things right when you’re making syrup, but you still have to take what the trees give you and you can’t control that.”

Sullivan is pleased to see the maple syrup project lead to other interests. For example, one of his sons has started working on a garden. The proud father says it all started with awareness of the process of getting food to the table.

“I think the more usual path is to have a little garden in the yard and then start thinking about other ways to raise food,” he says. “But for us it was the other way around.”
August is the month when samples are sent off to qualify for the Minnesota State Fair. How do these defending champions feel about their chances? “Colder temperatures in the spring may reduce quantity but also improve quality,” Sullivan says. “We’ll just have to see what the judges think.”

Still, blue ribbon or not, the family had a winning season. “It’s about the time we spend together,” Sullivan says. “Outside, learning and working … until it’s time to put the equipment away and get the bikes out!”