As of 1 p.m. Friday, March 13, test results show that two Maine residents have tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.
Maine Maple Sunday, an annual statewide event planned for March 22, is still going forward as planned, despite concerns about the new coronavirus. But some Maine sugarhouses are backing out.
“We’ve left it up to the producers whether they proceed, alter their event or cancel,” said Scott Dunn, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, which oversees the event. “There have been a few who have decided to cancel or postpone their events.”
The event is traditionally held on the last Sunday of March, with many maple producers also opening their doors on Saturday. During the weekend, maple producers throughout the state welcome the public to visit their sugaring operations and purchase their maple products.
“Maine Maple Sunday brings in the majority of [annual] income for a lot of these producers,” Dunn said. “And a lot have made significant investments in products they don’t make themselves to have for people to enjoy.”
More than 100 Maine maple syrup producers are listed as participants in this year’s event. Updates on whether these producers decide to change their events or cancel them will be posted on the Maine Maple Producers Association website at mainemapleproducers.com.
The owners of Balsam Ridge Farm in Raymond have already announced that they are canceling their planned festivities for the weekend.
“We just felt that we should err on the side of caution and follow the recommendations the CDC is putting out regarding large gatherings,” said Sharon Lloy, who owns Balsam Ridge with her husband Dewy Lloy. “It certainly isn’t a decision we made lightly, but we feel it’s just the responsible decision at this time as COVID-19 continues to evolve. In this past week, there have been so many updates [about the virus] and changes, and we anticipate there are going to be more in the days and weeks ahead.”
The number of people predicted to attend each sugarhouse event will likely be a deciding factor, especially after Gov. Janet Mill’s recent recommendation to postpone gatherings of more than 250 people. Balsam Ridge Farm typically sees between 2,000 and 2,500 visitors attending their Maine Maple Sunday events.
“We’ve been working on this since January, just preparing for this big weekend,” Sharon Lloy said. “It certainly is a big influx of people and a celebration of spring and promoting a great resource, Maine maple syrup.”
While the Maine Maple Producers Association isn’t advising maple producers about whether or not to cancel events, the association is offering guidance to sugarhouses about the importance of cleanliness and personal hygiene. They’re also suggesting that maple producers keep visitors as spread out as possible.
“We’ve actively working with producers to make sure the events go smoothly,” Dunn said.
Some maple producers are still mulling over the decision. The owners of Nutkin Knoll Farm in Newburgh, for example, have been thinking of ways they can alter their Maine Maple Sunday festivities so visitors are spread out more and remain outdoors. The event typically draws between 1,500 and 2,000 people to the farm over the course of the weekend.
“Our latest thinking is that we’re probably going to go ahead with the event … but maybe not have the sugarhouse operating so we don’t have crowds in there,” Len Price, who owns the farm with his wife, Nancy Price. “I looked at a [University of Maine] Cooperative Extension video this morning about handwashing stations on the farm — pretty basic stuff. We’ve always had these things available, but we’d have to make them more available.”
For people who want to support local maple producers but choose not to participate in Maine Maple Sunday this year, Dunn suggests contacting sugarhouses directly to plan alternative times to visit and purchase products. Contact information for sugarhouses throughout the state can be found at mainemapleproducers.com.
In light of canceling their Maine Maple Sunday events, Balsam Ridge Farm has extended its business hours to 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends so that the public can visit their shop and purchase products without crowds forming on their property.
“You know, this will pass, we’ll get through it,” Sharon Lloy said. “From what we’ve seen of the community, everyone seems understanding and supportive, so it makes us feel better that we’re making the right decision.”
Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease