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Syrup sampling at open house
Wild food business continues to expand in Yellowknife food market

Lyndsay Herman
Northern News Services
Published Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Vehicles lined the Ingraham Trail on Sunday as the Sap Sucker Birch Syrup co-operative hosted its annual open house.

NNSL photo/graphic

Katharine Thomas, left, checks on how her bannock is cooking while Jamie Fulford, centre, Chris Pike, and other bannock-makers roast theirs over a fire. - Lyndsay Herman/NNSL photo

This is the fourth year of the annual event and Mike Mitchell, a one-third owner of wild food business Arctic Harvest and one of the day's hosts, said some significant changes have been made over the years.

"We now have co-op harvesters which we didn't have in the first year," said Mitchell. "That's expanded things for sure."

As part of the Sap Suckers Birch Syrup cooperative, people can tap birch trees and bring their sap to Arctic Harvester's tree stand where it is processed into syrup.

The amount of sap contributed by each person is tracked and participants are given back syrup, based on how much sap they originally contributed.

The tree stand is located at the Arctic Harvester's camp, which encompasses about 400 trees and is located near the Dettah turnoff on the Ingraham Trail.

In terms of sales volume of the product, Mitchell says it's been quite strong all along.

"The syrup always seems to sell itself," he said.

"We introduced Metis butter this year and it's been very popular."

Metis butter is butter mixed with birch syrup. It was served alongside apple fritters apples dipped in batter and deep-fried at the well-attended open house, which drew a constant stream of taste-testers of all ages.

Further expansion is expected for the business this summer when Arctic Harvesters will sell their products at the Farmer's Market planned for Government Dock in Old Town.

In addition to birch products like syrup, Metis butter, and "Life's a birch" T-shirts, Arctic Harvesters will also be selling wild teas. At the open house, a constant brew of an earthy tea containing wild mint, cranberries and birch buds was available.

Syrup by reverse osmosis

On the operations side of the business, the addition of a reverse osmosis machine and an industrial-size evaporator has made the growing operation, which processes almost twice as much sap as before there was a cooperative program, more manageable.

Mitchell explained that without the machine, it would be nearly impossible to process the sap produced by both Arctic Harvest and its co-operative members.

Using Saturday as an example, the main cap produced 1,192 litres of sap and co-operative members contributed almost another 1,136 litres, bringing the total to 2,270 litres of sap.

The reverse osmosis machine evaporates enough water from the sap that the solution goes from 1 per cent to about eight per cent sugar.

The evaporator, as industrial as its size may be, can process up to 492 litres of sap per day.

The reverse osmosis machine brought the 2,270 litres down to between 284 and 303 litres of concentrated syrup, a much more manageable volume.

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