One year ago, sugar makers around the state had to close their doors to the public for the annual Maine Maple Sunday because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Maple syrup is a rite of spring, a cabin fever holiday,” said Hollis Edwards of Eureka Farms in Palmyra. “People buy syrup this time of year no matter what because they know maple syrup and spring go together.”

The fourth Sunday in March, Maple Sunday is a longstanding Maine tradition where producers around the state open their doors to community members and offer tours, products, demonstrations and activities; 2021 marks its 38th year.

Events are on for this weekend, though some shacks may look different than they have in previous years. Maple Sunday Weekend will commence around the state beginning Saturday, put on by Maine Maple Producers Association. Due to the pandemic, events and how maple products are offered might look a little different this year in order to follow Center for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines. This includes drive-up, curbside and traditional walk-up services.

For Bacon Farm Maple Products in Sidney and Eureka Farms in Palmyra, the pandemic has provided an opportunity to regroup and try new things in the months spent at home.

On Maine Maple Producers Association’s website, President Scott Dunn said that the organization represents 250 of the 450 producers licensed to sell maple syrup products in Maine. Annually, the state makes more than 575,000 gallons of syrup, generating more than $27 million for the Maine economy and supporting more than 560 full- and part-time jobs.

“This event is critical to the success of many family businesses and producers in Maine,” Dunn wrote on the group’s website. “The 38th annual event will certainly look and feel a bit different due to the pandemic, but we’re ready. We have found creative ways to celebrate the event in different ways. Since each sugar house is unique in size and capacity, producers are adjusting their hours and purchase options, including curbside pick-up and online ordering. It is important for visitors to plan ahead by checking mainemapleproducers.com or calling your local producers about their plans for the event.”

In Sidney, Shelley Bacon said that a drive-up window was made for their shack in response to the pandemic. Bacon Farm Maple Products is a sixth-generation family business, originally founded in 1881. On Saturday and Sunday, their doors will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1427 Pond Road. The drive-up window will still be utilized this weekend, though walk-ups are preferred.

“With the way we have it set up, people can still walk into the processing room, but we can’t let them walk through the room because of (COVID-19 restrictions),” Bacon said. “We’ll also have our regular stuff, like cotton candy, whoopie pies, plus all of our new stuff.”

Sarah Lane, right, and Ann Brooks of Bacon Farm Maple Products in Sidney package maple sugar candy and nuts Wednesday in preparation for Maine Maple Sunday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Along with the processing room, guests can also venture to a different part of the property, where Shelley Bacon’s son, Nathan, will be showing guests around his sugarbush.

“We’re kind of low key but not. There’s plenty of room, so we’re going to space everybody out,” Bacon said.

New products include maple coated peanut butter filled pretzels, maple pepper habanero almonds and sticky nuts, maple pepper garlic cashews and almonds, and maple fudge.

“We have a surprise for everybody that we’re not going to debut until this weekend,” Bacon said. “We’ve all had time to reboot and recharge.”

The Bacon family is participating in a month-long Maple Sunday event, with this weekend being the second of three with scheduled events.

Thirty-four miles up the road, in Palmyra, Hollis Edwards and son Seth have been working toward providing a safe, COVID-19-friendly Maple Sunday event at Eureka Farms, a commercial maple syrup producer. To do this, the father-son pair have changed their sales location off-site to nearby Rowell’s Auto Sales at 20 Estes Ave., Palmyra. The pair have owned the farm since 2010, and on top of producing maple syrup, they also keep bees, make and sell their own honey as well as bees and bee supplies, beef and hay.

“This year we felt because of the pandemic and everything, and in the interest of our customers and safety, we didn’t feel we could do it on site because we don’t have a lot of space here. It would be very hard to corral people,” Hollis Edwards said. “We are going to have a drive-thru event, and we will be saying thank you to all of our customers and friends and let them know that we are going to be back next year with whatever we’re allowed to do. We’ll be back to normal or whatever normal may be.”

Bacon Farm Maple Products co-owner Shelley Bacon peeks out the walk-up window beside the menu board Wednesday as the farm prepares for customers and Maine Maple Sunday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

At the farm, at 220 Shy Road, Palmyra, a farmstand is set up year-round. Edwards added that at Eureka Farms, they tap about 1,000 trees and add more each year. Though they’re poised to do 500 gallons of syrup a year, he said that they are not expecting to meet those numbers this year “because it’s going to be a very short season.” In previous years, Maple Sunday has brought anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 guests to the Palmyra farm.

Because of the change in location, traditional activities such as sleigh rides are on hold this year at Eureka Farm.

Hollis will be set up at Rowell’s Auto on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on a drive-thru basis. A farm stand is also set up year-round at Eureka Farms for those who can’t make it out or are looking to buy other products. Among new products being offered this year at Eureka Farms are maple yogurt, maple dip, maple pepper and maple sugar.

“It’s a major business, being a farmer, but we put a lot of thought into this event this year, which we always do. We’re looking at it from a whole different angle, and we just want the customers to know that we’re here and we’ll continue to be here for them because our farm stand is open all year long,” Edwards said. “We’re still participating in Maine Maple Sunday and we will continue to do that. We’ll be back here on the farm and able to have (customers) back as soon as things loosen up a little bit.”

Some sugar makers have chosen not to open their doors this year because of crowd limits and social distancing guidelines. Among those is Strawberry Hills Farm in Skowhegan. Owner Jeremy Steeves said in a phone call on Tuesday that because of the crowds that typically come in on Maple Sunday, he did not feel that he could maintain safety guidelines, but plans to return next year.

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