State officials, families visit sugarhouse restaurants during Massachusetts Maple Month

  • Norman Davenport, owner of Davenport Maple Farm Restaurant in Shelburne, oversees syrup production on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • Norman Davenport, owner of Davenport Maple Farm Restaurant in Shelburne, oversees syrup production on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • Norman Davenport, owner of Davenport Maple Farm Restaurant in Shelburne, oversees syrup production on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • Winton Pitcoff, coordinator of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, and state Rep. Natalie Blais enjoy breakfast on Sunday at Williams Farm Sugarhouse in Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • Sandy Williams tests the thickness of a batch of maple syrup at Williams Farm Sugarhouse in Deerfield on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer
Published: 3/5/2023 4:41:15 PM
Modified: 3/5/2023 4:41:01 PM

After months of staying inside for the winter, children and families, laymen and industry experts are making their way to Franklin County sugarhouses to enjoy the sweet flavors of the season.

With sugaring season gaining momentum, and with the Healey-Driscoll administration having declared March as Massachusetts Maple Month, state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Deerfield, visited Williams Farm Sugarhouse in Deerfield on Sunday morning to celebrate.

“Sugaring is the sign of spring,” said Norman Davenport, owner of Davenport Maple Farm Restaurant in Shelburne.

While maple syrup can be purchased at sugar shacks throughout Franklin County, Williams Farm Sugarhouse and Davenport Maple Farm Restaurant are among the last establishments run by sugaring families that serve a spread of breakfast offerings on weekends during sugaring season. Williams Farm Sugarhouse opened for the season on Saturday, while Davenport Maple Farm Restaurant expects to operate from Feb. 25 to April 2 this year. Both restaurants were packed over the weekend as families came in to partake in this annual New England tradition.

While Vermont may be more known for its maple syrup than its neighbor to the south, Massachusetts still has a “vibrant” maple syrup economy, according to Ashley Randle, the newly appointed Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) commissioner who visited Williams Farm Sugarhouse on Sunday alongside the two state legislators.

There are about 350 maple syrup producers in the state, 75% of which are located in Franklin, Hampshire and Berkshire counties. The industry makes between $7 million and $10 million annually, and covers about 1,500 acres of land, according to Winton Pitcoff, coordinator of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association.

Whether one is a maple connoisseur visiting one of these restaurants or a producer of the product, it is a complete family affair. Many tables lining the restaurants are filled with children eating sweet treats made from the natural product, and behind the walls in the boiling rooms, multiple generations work to turn sap into syrup.

Williams Farm Sugarhouse has been in the family for five generations and has produced syrup for more than 150 years. The Williams moved from their old location in Sunderland to Deerfield 28 years ago. Although the family used to grow crops, they pivoted away from farming shortly after their land sustained damage in Hurricane Irene. Now all the siblings have full-time jobs, but take time during the early spring to continue the legacy of producing syrup.

Sandy Williams, of the fourth generation, travels from Florida every year for a month to help with production, while the children of the sixth generation watch their parents work. The sisters in the Williams family manage the restaurant for the weekends.

“It’s all hands on deck,” Chip Williams said while overseeing syrup production.

The Williams family spent Valentine’s Day as the first day of their sugaring season, 10 days earlier than last year. They expect to produce between 1,500 and 2,000 gallons of syrup this season. The family oversees 3,000 of their own taps, and also buys sap from other property owners.

Norman Davenport is in a similar position, keeping the practice in the family for three generations. His family started their maple syrup farm in 1913. Davenport, his wife, Lisa, and his children are the only ones on the farm setting up the roughly 3,500 taps on their trees and operating the equipment. However, Michelle Olanyk and her husband, Todd, manage the restaurant portion.

While Davenport explained maple sugaring represents a significant portion of his family’s income, they also have cows and grow hay outside of sugaring season. Pitcoff noted many farmers have sugaring as one of their many products throughout the year, which works out well because they don’t have other crops to tend to in February and March.

Blais and Comerford visited Williams Farm Sugarhouse on Sunday not only because of this special season, but also because they are vice chairs of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, a newly formed legislative committee tasked with developing policy to support farmers’ critical role in Massachusetts’ culture, economy and food security. They used the gathering as an opportunity to discuss issues such as climate change, market volatility and other challenges facing farmers.

“Farmers make 94 cents to every dollar they spend,” Comerford said. “We need support from state programs if we want local products.”

“There are challenges on the horizon,” said Keith Bardwell, president of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association and owner of Brookledge Sugarhouse in Whately, who also visited Williams Farm Sugarhouse on Sunday. “I hope grants from the state can help.”

MDAR gives out various grants for sugarers, such as grants to support the purchase of more energy-efficient sugaring equipment or the installation of solar panels to use more renewable energy during production.

“Sugar makers are stewards of the planet,” Pitcoff said, citing the impact of sugarers’ forestry management practices and energy use.

“There is a big question of sustainability for future generations of the maple farm,” Davenport agreed.

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or


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