It takes a village

It takes a village

Greg Ferra pours sap from Slatersville-area maple trees into a 30-gallon barrel as Normand Vadenais looks on. (Breeze photos by Lauren Clem)
Troop 1139, residents help Vadenais keep Slatersville maple syrup tradition alive

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Since 1995, residents of Slatersville have known spring is on its way when they see Normand Vadenais, the neighborhood’s resident sugarmaker, heading out to collect the sap from the area’s maple trees. Vadenais, who only has one maple tree on his School Street property, taps close to 100 trees every year by agreement with his neighbors, friends and Slatersville Congregational Church. After collecting the clear sap, he heads home to his backyard sugar shack, where he boils the sap into a sweet, sticky syrup to give away to neighbors and friends.

When The Valley Breeze first interviewed Vadenais about his maple syrup making in 2009, he had only recently moved the operation into the backyard structure built with the help of then-construction teacher Timothy McGee’s class at North Smithfield High School. Not much has changed over the past decade. He still uses the evaporator purchased in 2004 from Montreal-based manufacturer Dominion and Grimm that runs on wood donated by his neighbors. In the afternoons, he goes out to check his sap pails, and in the evenings returns to the sugar shack to boil the syrup a little bit every night.

The only thing that has changed, it seems, is age. Vadenais, 85, admits the process of checking all 81 taps takes a little longer than it used to. Earlier this year, he ran into health problems, and a visit to the doctor revealed he had a nasty bout of pneumonia in his right lung. With his frequent trips outside still leaving him out of breath, Vadenais considered taking the season off from making syrup for the first time in 24 years.

That’s when the community stepped in.

The help started off small, with Kyle Klockars, owner of Village Paint and Decorating in Slatersville Plaza, donating the use of a Gator vehicle to help carry the 30-gallon trash barrel Vadenais uses for his sap collection. Klockars reached out to others in the community, and soon, Vadenais began receiving offers from residents who wanted to help out. Then, in March, Jeremy Koury, assistant scoutmaster of Troop 1139 Slatersville, asked Vadenais if the Boy Scouts could lend a hand. Together, they drew up a schedule of more than a dozen volunteers, with a different scout or family member scheduled to help with sap collection every afternoon through the end of March.

“I tell you, without all these helpers this year, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” said Vadenais.

Last Thursday, March 14, Christian Forant, a member of Troop 1139, and his friend, Greg Ferra, had the task of helping Vadenais check the 81 pails scattered around the historic neighborhood. The taps, said Vadenais, can yield as much as 90 gallons of sap in one day, enough to fill three large trash barrels. Those 90 gallons will boil down to less than two gallons of syrup, with 50 gallons required to make one gallon of the sticky substance.

“When it goes down below freezing at night and goes to 40 degrees during the day, the sap will run,” he explained.

It’s a slow process, one that Vadenais is happy to pass on to the next generation. Before heading out to collect the sap, he gives a brief tour of his sugar shack, including the evaporator and samples of syrup at various points in the boiling process. Vadenais learned the process from his cousin in Quebec, whom he used to visit every year during the syrup season, which typically stretches from February until March or April.

“It’s cool to see that there’s someone in our community that has been working for this many years and he does it just as a hobby, he doesn’t get anything out of it,” said Forant.

Vadenais is no stranger to the Boy Scouts. As a child growing up in Woonsocket, he belonged to a troop based out of St. Ann Church and camped at Yawgoog Scout Reservation. He recalled how his troop used syrup or molasses when they cooked baked beans over hot coals and recommended Troop 1139 give the recipe a try during their next cookout.

With the trees on track to yield between 1,400 and 1,600 gallons of sap this year, Vadenais said he can expect about 30 gallons of syrup by the end of the season. He cans and labels each jar with the words “Slatersville Maple Syrup,” but gives all the product away to a long list of neighbors and friends. This year, he’ll have a new group of helpers to add to the growing list, even it means less syrup to keep at home.

“By the time I finish giving it away, I’ll probably end up with one or two gallons for myself,” he said.

Vadenais wished to recognize all the scouts, parents and other volunteers who have helped with his maple syrup making this season, including: Jacob Koury, Jeremy Koury, Brady Cofsky, Ben Cofsky, Cole Skinner, Christian Forant, Bill Forant, Cole Dubois, Nathaniel Prochniak, James Hanlon, Joshua Hanlon, Cameron Martin, Gregory Casey, Owen Boisvert and Glenn Boisvert.

Greg Ferra, Christian Forant and School Street resident Normand Vadenais stand in front of the sugar shack where he boils sap into maple syrup. Facing health problems this year, Vadenais, 85, got a helping hand in his syrup operation from the scouts of Troop 1139 Slatersville and other volunteers.
Christian Forant, a member of Troop 1139 Slatersville, checks for sap from a maple tree in the yard of a home on School Street.

Comments

reading about this wonderful man, and the enormous community spirit. Love this story, and what a remarkable legacy. Thanks for sharing, it made my day for sure!

Great tradition ,my grandfather would boil it down and throw it on the snow to make maple taffy.

Enhancing culture and residents,Nobody worrying about nothing but good.