A smiling woman with two children on either side, each holding a maple syrup sample

Make Your Own Maple Syrup and More at The Roost Farm

A tour of The Roost Farm immediately shows you the range of the operation. Head down the farm track and you’ll pass the chicken coop first, where hens peck around garden boxes and Shep the border collie keeps a wary eye on the rooster. Beyond that, the route runs alongside an expansive field before heading into a maple stand, where blue tubing zigzags between trees collecting sap for this year’s maple season.

Owners Shannon O’Donnell and her husband Matt Stewart officially bought The Roost in 2017, but their connection to the property goes much further back. “My husband grew up pretty much on the farm,” O’Donnell says, adding that family roots date back to Stewart’s great-grandparents. “Our kids are the fifth generation here.”

Despite that lineage, over the years the property had transitioned into a hobby farm, so bringing production back up to scale took serious effort. The Roost now raises chicken, lamb, and pork, which they sell online and at the farm gate. The first order of business, however, was getting the sugar bush operating at a commercial level.

“My husband’s family has been making maple syrup for a million years, and we’ve both been doing it since we were kids, so it was kind of a natural first step in our business development,” O’Donnell says. As of 2024 The Roost boasts 1200 taps, but has kept the process traditional enough to preserve a signature flavour.

“We cook with wood—larger producers often move away from wood because it’s not as efficient and it’s really expensive,” O’Donnell explains. “It absolutely changes the flavour, and [without it] you miss that cabane à sucre experience, that little hint of smoke in your maple syrup that makes you feel like you’ve got an authentic, homemade product. So it’s really important to us that we keep the woodfired process.”

Another factor that makes The Roost’s syrup unique is location. The farm borders the Carden Alvar Natural Area, a globally rare type of ecosystem created by a shallow limestone bedrock. “It’s just a really clean maple flavour,” O’Donnell says. “Obviously the sap that comes from the trees is coming from an environment, wherever that may be. It might look like swamps, it might look like lakeshore, it might look like dry forest, or where we are it’s rock. So the water that the tree is absorbing is filtered through the limestone here, and I think it really gives a distinct flavour to our maple syrup.”

The intersection of maple tradition and unique landscapes adds obvious agritourism appeal, a fact that isn’t lost on O’Donnell and Stewart. The couple has capitalized on those advantages, as well as O’Donnell’s education background, to offer a sophisticated twist on a sugar bush tour. “Our tours are a little bit different than your typical maple experiences,” O’Donnell says. “More often than not, people visit a sugar cabin, they get to see a bit of the operation and how it goes, see the steam and that sort of thing, and have a taste. It’s more focused on the taste and a general introduction to boiling sap.”

By contrast, a tour of The Roost goes in-depth. “Our tour is a couple hours long, and it takes you through a little history of the farm, we talk about Indigenous peoples’ methods and methodology, how they collected sap and made sugar and that sort of thing, and how it evolved over time into the industry that it is now. People get to see two different shacks: one in sort of a hobby-style setup, which is more traditional, and also something that’s more commercialized now in a bigger setup.”

The standard tour runs twice a week, but for visitors really looking to get hands on, The Roost also offers extended and overnight maple packages. During a longer stay, groups have the time to make their own syrup right on site. Whichever version of the tour they choose, the response from guests has been very positive. “We get a lot of great feedback,” O’Donnell says. “People really appreciate the knowledge that they walk away with, and of course everybody loves all the tastings.”

That kind of reception has prompted a wider range of agritourism experiences. A prime example is the annual Maple Mingle Farm-to-Table Event, which sees a local chef serving a five-course dinner composed of food produced sustainably on the farm, or sourced from other nearby producers. For those who’d really like a firsthand view of farm life—or just access to a charming space and walking trails—a cabin at the back of the property is available for overnight stays. “If they want to do a farm experience they can join in with the morning chores, or afternoon chores, or whatever they like,” O’Donnell says, though she adds lending a hand is strictly optional and birders have also used the cabin as a base of operations. “This area is really renowned for birds, so people can access the alvar through here if they want and see quite a bit.”

O’Donnell admits farm life is busy, but she and Stewart continue to expand and improve The Roost’s offerings nonetheless. A brick and mortar store beside the farmhouse is next on deck, which will open sometime after sap stops flowing in late April. In the meantime, O’Donnell says she hopes to introduce as many guests as possible to the joys of the maple season. And her enthusiasm really is catching—you might, for example, learn the subtle differences in the sound of boiling sap as it reduces down to syrup, or pick up a few facts on the loggerhead shrike, an endangered songbird that lives on the alvar. The biggest takeaway, of course, will probably be delicious maple syrup and farm goods, produced with pride in Kawartha Lakes.

Learn more about maple in Kawarthas Northumberland on our maple season page

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