Two Mamas Farm: Making Life a Bit Sweeter for All
It is easy to tell when someone genuinely loves and believes in what they do for a living. You may see a twinkle in their eye; hear their voice uplift. The capacity to follow a dream can be rife with challenges, but when a person has found this happiness, you can feel its radiance glowing like the sun at your back. This is why it is so intriguing to speak with farmers about their daily lives. Farming takes hard work and grit to flourish. The hours are long, the labor is physically demanding, and the degree of effort required may not always correlate to income. There are good years and bad years, requiring them to be innovators who can plan ahead for a potentially tough season (or even several of them). They must also be able to divest resources to account for unexpected situations before they arise, such as broken equipment or an illness afflicting the crops. Farmers have a unique ability to avoid being overcome by the weight of such obstacles while likewise managing them with tact and creativity. For the farmer, this is simply what is required in exchange for the joy and fulfillment of their craft.
We all need to eat, but not all of us are meant to cultivate the land—and with the state of our corporate food system today, local farmers in particular deserve tremendous respect and appreciation. They are givers who keep entire communities nourished and whole while doing so from a place of sincerity and love for their calling. Here in Western Massachusetts, we are so fortunate to have a wide network of food producers led by dedicated professionals who were born to be farmers—and Two Mamas Farm is a great example!
We were thrilled to be able to visit Two Mamas Farm recently and learn so much more about their story. We caught them right at the height of the maple tapping season, where the trees are giving the most and the sap flow is keeping all the farming equipment busy. We were impressed by co-owner Sarah Fournier-Scanlon’s respect for the trees, adoration for nature, love for her family, and commitment to building a more just food system—and we know you will be, too.
Click play to watch the video tour, or read the full interview transcript below!
Q: What first got you interested in maple sugaring?
A: I’m a big perennials nerd, so when I was younger I studied permaculture and learned that we grow great grass and trees in New England. In 2010, I went to a USDA seminar about how climate change was going to kill agriculture in New England, and it scared the bejeezus out of me with what they said about the maple trees (that they were going to migrate north to Canada, etc.). So, I started watching and saw the roadside maples suffering with the salts, but also saw our wooded trees were doing really well. I saw them withstanding the weather, and I saw our forest community thriving, so I took the maple plunge! We actually have one of the longest tap sugar bushes in Cummington (hundreds of years!), which is very exciting.
I actually used to do dairy—I did grass-based milk. I loved that, but it got to be too much so I turned my eyes over to the maple trees. Funnily enough, maple and dairy have a lot in common. There’s a lot of plumbing, vacuum pumps, sanitary fittings… it has to be wicked clean. So, maple is like dairy, but more fun and easier!
Pictured: The main line weaves in and out of the maple trees along the Waterfall Trail
Q: Can you tell us a little about how you acquired the land and started the farm?
A: I was born in Cummington but grew up in Northampton. I spent many years traveling and doing college stuff, but I’ve always felt at home in these hills and knew I wanted to farm here. So instead of going to grad school, I bought the farm with my dad—and now, I own the farm on my own.
Pictured: Sarah monitors the incoming sap flow as it is pumped into the holding tank
Q: What are the different types of organic maple syrup you produce?
A: I made this very attractive What in the world are maple syrup grades? info sheet that anyone can read on our website (www.twomamasfarm.com). The international grading system changed around 2014 to 2015 and is now universal across the industry. The grades are Golden Delicate, Amber Rich, Dark Robust, and Very Dark Strong Flavor—which is what everyone used to call Grade B. I wouldn’t even say Very Dark Strong Flavor is an acquired taste, but if you don’t know what you’re expecting it can knock your socks off! When it’s early in the season, the tap holes are really fresh and the sap is very cold, resulting in Golden Delicate. I really like that one for its light flavor. Amber Rich is that staple sugarhouse flavor—it's the one you'll get to try when you visit most maple sugar farms. Then, Dark Robust is actually what sells the most thanks to having that classic, really rich maple flavor.
Pictured: Two Mamas offers many different sizes, syrup grades, and glass bottle varieties
Q: Can you walk us through the journey the sap takes from tree to bottle?
A: It’s neat! Everyone gets excited about maple tapping. It’s only during this one time of year the sap is rising up in the trees—you have to have these really cold nights and above-freezing days, which is what makes the sap run. Vacuum pumps have really changed the game of maple. Now that you can apply a vacuum, you can get way more sap than you used to—and plenty of studies have been done to show that it doesn’t hurt the trees, which is great!
Here's how it works: you tap a tree with a spout, pop it in, and attach it to a drop line. That drop line cuts into a ladder line, which is another thin piece of tubing that runs down to a main line. From the main line, all of those run to a vacuum booster. The vacuum booster is a 30-gallon food-grade cylinder with different ball valves in it—those make it easy to find leaks if they come up. From there, we have a wet and a dry line running across our field. The dry line is just for vacuum transfer and nothing else, so if the wet line freezes and it’s full of sap, it can go through the dry line instead. The sap then enters a little shed and goes into a vacuum releaser, and as that fills up a little electric well pump transfers it into a big 1,500-gallon stainless steel tank. From there, another pump brings it up to the sugar barn where the sap travels into a head tank and gravities down into the evaporator—and finally, it has made it! [laughs] It’s quite a journey.
Pictured: Sarah inspects a tap hole running from one of her maple trees
Q: What are some of the earth-friendly practices you use that make the farm unique?
A: When I was a dairy owner, I only did glass. So, I carried that over when I started Two Mamas. As a farm owner, I am committed to not using plastic in our packaging. We heat our home and barn with wood. We do wood evaporation to make our maple syrup. Just this year, we got a Massachusetts Department of Agriculture [MDAR] grant for a reverse osmosis machine to increase the sugar content in your sap before you boil it, so starting next year, for all of our 1000+ taps, we’ll only use a quart-and-a-half of wood for the season! We are also looking to do solar. My barn slate roof is challenging, but we are looking to replace the south end withstanding so that we can run the whole farm on solar. We also have a sustainable forestry stewardship plan that really enhances wildlife habitats. We only do cuts that are specifically geared towards advancing the ecological health of the forest and its ecosystems. I see maple as a symbiotic part of that!
We're working towards a regenerative farm that’s enhancing our land base. I want to create livelihoods that our neurodivergent children, should they choose to farm and love the land, can step into with grace, competence, and love someday. I want to create that, and if it isn’t for my kids, I want to make sure it’s ready for someone else! We don’t want to become huge here. We want to be the right size for our land and not be extractive. That’s our goal.
Pictured: A large stainless steel tank collects the sap before pumping it up to the evaporator
Q: How is climate change affecting the maple sugaring industry, and what can we do to negate its effects?
A: I think a lot of producers are noticing their sap-sugar content is getting a little lower. The old golden ratio is that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup, and that is based on a 2% sugar sap ratio. We get around a 2.2% here, so we have pretty sweet trees—which is great—but what I’m hearing across the industry is that this number is falling. By the end of each season, the sugar content tends to drop towards the end of each season. At the end of 2022, we were pulling a 1.1% before we decided to shut down for the year.
In terms of mitigating the falling sugar content, I think the focus has to be on supporting our forest insects like the emerald ash borer and the wooly adelgid, and our trees. We’re looking at maple right now as maybe one of the climax keystone species in our forests, so maple producers have to figure out what to plant alongside it to keep our forests strong. We care about the woods. We spend a lot of time out here!
Pictured: The Waterfall Trail's map and guidelines can be seen displayed at its entrance.
Q: Can you describe your work in promoting social justice and inclusivity?
A: I own my white and educational privilege, but aside from that we are pretty much every kind of other you can be in one family. We’re all neurodivergent. I have kiddos on the spectrum, kids with ADHD—I have a trans child in a time when the law is frightening in that regard. I have children who need special support in school. One of our children is not white. So, all these things touch our lives personally every day.
My wife is a wheelchair user, which is new since the pandemic. My own able-ism journey has been very eye-opening in this. When we met, I was a cow dairy farmer and she was a goat dairy farmer. It’s just wild going through children, adoption, foster care, and family dynamics... and now here we are. Accessibility should be a right: for example, how do we make things like our Waterfall Trail accessible? We’re working with Hilltown Land Trust and the Trustees of Reservations on that right now. I have a wild handicap ramp up to my sugar barn. How can I improve it so my wife can spend time with me while I’m boiling? It seems like a design thing. I feel like there’s something with permaculture and accessibility in designing farms—and I’m not quite sure what it is, but I know it’s there.
Pictured: A rainbow emerges from a newly sun-kissed sky above Two Mamas Farm
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges of maple sugaring?
CASEY: Like all farming, it’s really hard work! Maple sugaring is hard work during a particularly gross time of year, too. It’s muddy and frozen; you’re getting drenched in icy sap. You’re horseshoeing around trying to tap trees in the dead of winter or fixing a vacuum leak at the farthest end of your sugar bush. It’s tricky to sell, too! It is so expensive to make maple syrup. There’s a lot that goes into it in terms of equipment, in terms of skill—bottling, for instance. I tie a lot of hand tags.
To me though, it's all worth it because I can listen to an audiobook and my kids can play in the barn for a few hours. To me, that’s worth it over getting things automated. But it is challenging. Some people tend to think of farming as dumb labor, but it’s not—it’s skilled labor. In this area, with organizations like CISA have done great work at highlighting farmers, great farmers' markets, and CSAs... and that’s wonderful. There’s sort of this idea that anyone can farm—and you can, but keep in mind that you also have to be a scientist, a plumber, an earth steward, and (as a maple producer) an alchemist who is able to turn sap into syrup. There is a lot to know!
Pictured: The large evaporator is the beating heart of the farm, boiling delicious maple syrup
Q: How did you get involved with co-ops and what are the benefits of working within a local food system?
A: I remember being very young and seeing the yard signs in Northampton saying “Build the Co-op!” before there was a site or anything. I was really excited when it finally got built! We’ve got the Creamery Co-op up here in Cummington. I’m a member of River Valley Co-op and the Creamery, but my Creamery number is smaller and a lot easier to remember [laughs].
Local food is where it’s at for us and the planet. I see a future with a lot more connection in our farming to the land, and young people looking for meaningful jobs. The future of farming is science meeting the needs of the earth, your personal joy, and the land—there’s so much room there. It’s such a just and transformative thing to buy food from a neighbor whose practices you understand. I am Certified Organic because while I can’t know all of my customers personally, I want them to know I do all these things that are good for them. Your sap touches nothing gross. We care about our trees and don’t over-tap them. Still, there are plenty of producers out there that aren’t organic who still produce great syrup!
Pictured: A quart of Two Mamas' delicious organic maple syrup is flanked by Ursula and her cub!
Q: Can you tell us about your Sponsor a Maple Tree Program?
A: That’s something I came up with! The idea of Sponsor a Maple Tree is that there’s so much unpaid work that maple farmers have to do in terms of things like invasive species management and cutting trees. With all the wind damage this year, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the woods with a chainsaw. That isn’t something people normally think of as being a part of sugar-making, right? So, you don’t always get paid for all these odds and ends, so Sponsor a Maple Tree was a way to support the forest ecosystem and find a way to make up for some of those losses.
The program works like this—first, you get to choose and adopt a maple tree in the woods. You'll get to pick the tree’s age, approximately. Then, you get to name your tree! So, I will wood-burn for you whatever you want to name your tree and you can gift it to someone. I’ll also send you a pint of syrup that partially came from your very own tree. I’ve also been sending little maps to people who have been buying them too, so if you're hiking the Waterfall Trail they can figure out where your tree is off of the main line and go visit it if you want!
Pictured: One of the many trees that's been adopted through the Sponsor a Maple Tree program
Q: What do you enjoy most about maple sugaring and farming?
A: I love being in the woods. I’m so lucky that I live in my favorite place. I love my woods, and I feel at home in them. My favorite parts of the year are going out and fixing the lines, taking my time, and watching how the trees change from year to year—for example, looking at where the snowy owl is resting this year. We have so many red efts out there, too! It’s fun being out there with my kids and just being in it. I love when leisure and work can meet in this nice way. Farming is such hard work, so it’s nice to have that built-in.
Come out and shop at either River Valley Co-op location today for a great selection of organic maple syrups from Two Mamas Farm!
*Please note we cannot always guarantee availability due to the unique conditions of each harvest season.