The big orange McCutcheon’s Maple Syrup truck is a welcome sight each spring when the Orillia Farmers’ Market moves outside.
For more than 40 years, the local syrup producer has been a focal point at the downtown market. This year, the tradition continues, but with a difference. It will be a second generation of McCutcheons greeting customers and selling the family’s award-winning liquid gold.
Carley McCutcheon, daughter of Ken and Rene McCutcheon, founders of the family-run farm, will be making the weekly early morning trek to the market this year.
“My parents have retired from the market,” explained Carley. “They get to sleep in on Saturday mornings finally!”
While Ken and Rene will remain involved in the annual maple syrup production, Carley and her brother Jesse, along with his wife Colette, are taking a more active role in the family business.
What surprises a lot of people is just how much of a family business the production of maple syrup actually is for the McCutcheons.
“This has been a full-time business for my parents,” said Carley. “It’s just always what my parents did for a living. It was pretty cool as a kid because they were both home all the time. My mom did pottery and my dad did honey, too, but it was mostly syrup and the farmers’ market.”
Going to the farmers’ market was a regular weekly outing for the family. Parking alongside the Orillia Public Library, Carley recalls going into the library to check out 10 books each week as part of the market excursion.
Ken McCutcheon first became a vendor at the market back in the early 1970s, after he moved to his father’s farm property in Oro-Medonte. He started out growing and selling pumpkins and other produce, but it was maple syrup production where he saw potential.
He and Rene began, as most beginners do, with a few buckets. Over the years, the family grew the business to what it is today, involving the collection of sap from over 6,000 trees with 30 km of tubing.
“I’m sure it would be a lot more difficult to make a living at it now,” said Carley, “especially if you were starting from scratch.”
“I remember my parents doing everything on a shoestring. My dad even figured out how to fire the evaporator using sawdust because it was a free waste product from the lumber yards.”
The Orillia Farmers’ Market has always played a major role in the success of the business.
“We don’t sell in stores or wholesale,” explained Carley, “so the weekly market has always been pretty important. For many years, it was one of the biggest and busiest farmers’ markets in Ontario.”
While the characteristics of the downtown market have changed over the years, the McCutcheons are committed to remaining one of its most popular vendors. The most recent transition occurred about 10 years ago during the construction of the new Public Library and Market Square.
The market moved temporarily to the Orillia City Centre parking lot and when it was time to move back to the original property, some vendors decided not to return. Many moved to a newly established market at the Orillia fairgrounds.
“It was unfortunate,” said Carley. “Since the split, it’s (Orillia Farmers’ Market) never really been the same.”
Carley added that she is often asked why McCutcheon’s chose to stay at the downtown location.
“For me, it’s the history. This market has been here since the mid-1800s. It was the hub of Orillia. It feels important. It feels like the downtown should have a market – it adds a lot to a downtown. If you visit markets in other cities, you can see how much they add to the downtown," she explained.
“We’re lucky because we have established customers. They know we’re here and they come specifically for the syrup. I think it’s also good for the market, being a bit of a draw. It helps the other vendors,” added Carley.
Having a dedicated customer base also contributes to the success of the family business, which sells out its syrup production each year.
“It’s definitely the quality of the product that has created our customer base,” said Carley, who credits the high quality of McCutcheon syrup to her dad.
“My dad is a perfectionist. He takes such care and attention to every detail. The farm is immaculate; everything is spotless – that’s just how he is. I think this must translate into the flavour of the syrup that our customers love.”
Indeed, the family’s syrup is world-class. McCutcheon’s has won two world championship trophies at the Royal Winter Fair – Canada’s premier maple competition – and numerous first-place ribbons.
Carley says she is looking forward to this summer at the Orillia Farmers’ Market and is hoping to contribute to slowly building the market back to being a bustling downtown attraction.
“We need to create an atmosphere and experience, with products and activities to attract people. Having good coffee, prepared foods and music helps a lot. And the role of the market manager is essential. I hope that city council makes the success of the downtown market a priority.”
Open all year long on Saturday mornings, the Orillia Farmers’ Market launches its outdoor vendors tomorrow (May 21). Customers can also find McCutcheon’s syrup at the Downtown Collingwood Farmer’s Market, where Carley’s brother Jesse will be throughout the summer.
And new this spring, McCutcheon’s syrup will be on display and for sale at the Outdoor Spring Market at Quayle’s Brewery, located on Line 12 near Warminster. The market takes place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 21-22 and May 28-29.
“We’re so happy to be involved with Quayle’s,” said Carley. “They reached out to us because we’re neighbours and they have used our syrup in the past to make one of their specialty beers. It will be a busy and fun couple of weekends!”
To find out more about McCutcheon’s Maple Syrup, you can visit its website, and of course to purchase the award-winning syrup, you can visit the Orillia Farmers’ Market, the Downtown Collingwood Farmers’ Market or the Quayle’s Brewery Spring Market.