A Maple Sugaring Tour: Parker Woodland Wildlife Refuge & Chepachet Farms

The "Sugar House" at Chepachet Farms.

It didn’t start off well — it was raining, and we were late.  It got even worse when we arrived at the Audubon Society in Bristol only to realize that we had misread — the maple sugaring tour took place at the Parker Woodland Wildlife Refuge in Coventry, which was on the other side of the state.  Luckily Rhode Island isn’t that big, and luckily, the Audubon Society made space for us on the tour later in the morning.

We arrived at their house tucked in the woods to a breakfast spread of Dunkin’ Donuts muffins and doughnuts slathered with their homemade maple glaze and some pancakes to taste their maple syrup.  Then we followed our tour guide outside in the rain to learn about the Native American’s discovery of maple syrup and its rise to the sweet necessity we now know and love.   The program also demystified how to discern a sugar maple tree (forked branches, twin buds, color and shape of the leaves) and how to tap trees and produce your own syrup.

Inside the "Sugar House" at Chepachet Farms, the tree sap boils down into maple syrup.

Our tour ended back inside where we could taste test the real thing against Aunt Jemima’s.  As a pancake connoisseur, this happens to be one of my areas of expertise — the phony stuff has a stickier, stringier consistency and, in fact, has little maple flavor.  Also inside, Chepachet Farms had setup a stand for visitors to sample and purchase their homemade goods — a sweet maple salad dressing, a crunchy maple peanut brittle, maple-flavored popcorn, and, of course, maple syrup.  Learning a bit about the Chepachet Farms operation, we decided to drive there immediately.  After a bit of hunting around in the rain, we came across their “Sugar House” which is open to the public for a view of the sap boiling furiously in a wood-burning metal tub at a temperature of over 200 degrees.  In their farm operation, they gather up to 500 gallons of sap daily which they boil down to 12 gallons of maple syrup.  If you come during the season, you can literally buy syrup that’s been bottled that morning and is still warm, but if you can’t make it out, you can also order their syrup online.

See a list of Rhode Island farms that produce maple syrup at Farm Fresh RI. Or, go ahead, try this at home.  Here’s a handy guide on How to Tap Maple Trees and Make Maple Syrup.

Chepachet Farms
Their “Sugar House” is open to the public — call ahead for times.
226 Tourtellot Hill Road
Chepachet, RI 02814

Audubon Society of Rhode Island
Locations throughout RI
Annual Maple Sugaring at Parker Woodland Wildlife Refuge
Maple Valley Road, Coventry, RI

O Christmas Tree: Our Rhode Island Tour of Tree Farms

Lockwood's Tree Farm -- nice trees for a reasonable price, plus some extra hospitality.

On Saturday, we had grand plans of heading to the far reaches of Rhode Island to find a Christmas tree.

Let me clarify. I always have found it amazing when we lived in New York that we could drive an hour or two and wind up in some rustic town along the Hudson or a farm in Pennsylvania. Leaving Providence, however, it takes only a few minutes to reach a bucolic setting, as if everything in Rhode Island is miniaturized even the distance between city and country.

Geoff had read about Duquette Tree Farm in Chepachet, RI so we headed west. Our mistake was stopping for a late lunch along the way at Bishop Hill Tavern– not because the food was bad, because, in fact, it was pretty good for a random bar/restaurant, especially one that posts a sign, “Warm Beer. Cold Food. Slow Service. Have a Nice Day.” The problem was that our lunch ended after 4 pm which, in winter, is night or at least looks like it. We didn’t know when the farm closed but guessed it’d be hard to pick a tree in the dark. Nevertheless, we decided to visit Chepachet for the state’s oldest store, Brown & Hopkins Country Store, and happened upon a line of charming antique stores, which we made our way into just a few minutes before they closed at 5.

On Sunday afternoon, we were ready to try again. This time I started with some research and called around. Turned out Duquette Tree Farm didn’t have larger 8-9 foot trees left, but they recommended Lockwood’s Tree Farm not too far from them. I also tried calling Big John Leyden’s Christmas Tree Farm but they never answered the phone. Instead of taking the good advice of a farmer, we decided to be adventurous and drove out to Greene Tree Farm & Nursery because I read they had maple syrup, and well, I’m the kind of person who will go those extra 10 miles for good maple syrup. Plus, over the phone, they said they had 8-9 foot trees, and the cost was $40 for any tree.

Picking a tree in the rain is not nearly as romantic as picking one in the snow, and we trudged around the farm amid drizzles looking at trees. They had plenty that were tall enough, but many were planted a bit too close together so they inevitably were thinner on one side than the other. Also most of their trees were a yellower green, which if I knew anything about them probably indicated that they were cypress instead of fir or something like that. Worse yet, their dilapidated maple syrup stand was filled only with debris.

Enjoy some cupcakes while you wait for your tree.

So we got back in the car, stopping along the way at Pezza Farm in Johnston, RI which didn’t have larger trees and whose wreaths were $50 each. Hence, back in the car to Lockwood’s Tree Farm in Smithfield, RI. As we drove up to their red barn placed alongside their field of trees and a pond for skating (although a bit wet for that currently), we knew we had found the place for us. With very little effort, we found a wonderful tree — tall, full, green, and trimmed — for a reasonable price of $45. Apparently the rain had curtailed business that day so they were glad to see us too. Even better, the owners welcome visitors into a heated room where they offer candy, cupcakes, and hot cocoa for the kids and cider and coffee for the adults — all for free. And every tree comes with a string of lights. Now that’s country charm that’s well worth the 15-mile drive from Providence.

Lockwood’s Tree Farm
129 Austin Avenue
Smithfield, RI

Duquette Tree Farm
87 Reservoir Road
Chepachet, RI

RI Christmas Tree Growers Association www.richristmastrees.com

Farm Fresh RI’s list of Christmas tree farm vendors: www.farmfresh.org/food/food.php?zip=02909&food=130