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Our Story

Camp Aquila Maple Syrup

by Tracy Nyhus, Thomas Ochmacht and Jacalyn Keller

During the spring semester 2006, several local food producers were interviewed by University of Minnesota Crookston composition students instructed by Dr. Rachel McCoppin.  These interviews were done as a service-learning project that allows students to practice their interviewing and writing skills on a real world project.

You wake up to the sweet smell of French toast on your day off, with the scent of cinnamon and toasting bread along with a side of bacon. You hear the eggs popping in the pan as you walk up the stairs. When you finally get up the stairs and see the mounds of food set out on the table, you immediately start filling your plate with french toast, eggs, and bacon. But where is the syrup?  What would life be like without the sweet syrup you so graciously pour on top of your stack of french toast? Where do you get that pint of syrup that is sitting right next to the platter full of french toast? The answer to these questions could be Camp Aquila Pure Maple Syrup.

Stu Peterson and his wife Corinne, founders of Camp Aquila Pure Maple Syrup, bought their 190 acres from a close friend of the family. One-hundred fifty acres of this property contains their sugar maple trees which are tapped for the syrup. Their property, formerly named Camp Aquila for Boys, is located south of Detroit Lakes and north of Fergus Falls on Star Lake, six miles west of Dent, Minnesota.

The former owner/operator of the camp, a close friend of Stu and Corrine’s, sold the property to the Petersons. There was an informal agreement made between them that the property would not become developed and would not be made into lake homes or a resort. There is a bond between these friends and the former owner knew that Stu and his wife would respect his wishes and keep the land as it is. Respecting their friend and the former camp, Stu and his wife started making syrup and named their business Camp Aquila Pure Maple Syrup after the once beloved camp for boys.

Stu and his wife acquired the property in 1983. Because the area was so heavily wooded, they asked the Department of Natural Resources to come out and take a look at the land and give them ideas for possible uses of it. The DNR informed Stu and Corrine that the land had potential for maple syrup production. Both Stu and Corinne had very busy work lives, so there was not much time for the maple syrup business until Stu received early retirement in 2000, and they began to dabble in maple syrup.

Starting in the spring of 2000, the first two years of producing maple syrup were only experimental, but now the couple is into their 4th year as commercial licensed producers. Their property is lakefront and Stu and his wife believe they will continue to use the trees to produce maple syrup as long as they are physically able.

Camp Aquila Pure Maple Syrup is different than other types of maple syrup in that it consistently produces a good flavor and is certified organic, unlike a lot of commercial sized producers.  In fact, Camp Aquila Pure Maple Syrup won the Grand Prize for its maple syrup at the 2005 annual meeting of the Minnesota Maple Syrup Producers Association, in which Stu serves as secretary.

Camp Aquila producers pay particular attention to the cleaning of their equipment; if they do not, it can cause the sap to spoil and change the taste. There are no chemicals used in their woods, and Stu and Corinne are licensed by the state of Minnesota and certified USDA organic by Minnesota Crop Improvement Association.

Within a normal year, the Peterson’s produce about 200 gallons of finished bottled syrup. They have 750 taps, whereas the biggest producers in Minnesota have about eight to ten thousand taps. Those big producers put in permanent pipelines throughout their woods. However Stu and Corinne empty their taps by hand and remove all equipment from the woods at the end of each season.  They have no paid employees that work for them.  The maple syrup production begins in early to mid March and ends by mid April.  They must first drill a hole in the tree and tap in a spout, which is connected to a tube that runs into a bucket.  Sap usually runs on sunny days after a cold, below freezing night.  As the buckets are filled, Stu and Corinne go out into the woods on 6-wheelers and collect the buckets. They then bring them back to the sugar house and pump the sap into tanks.  When the tanks are full, they will feed into a maple syrup cooker which boils down from three percent sugar sap to 66 percent sugar. It takes about 33 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.

So, when thinking about that great big stack of French toast on your breakfast table, don’t forget the special care that goes into creating the pure and natural syrup that completes your meal. You can find this tasty treat in Vergas, Minnesota at the town grocery store, at two convenience stores in Vergas, on Star Lake at Du Charme Corner Store, and at two specialty stores in Fergus Falls: the Union Avenue Market and Meadow Farm Foods. You can also directly purchase the product from Stu and Corinne by calling the number (218) 758-2796. The syrup comes in 8oz, 12oz, and 16oz containers. Also, if you are not busy on a lazy Saturday, you could call and make an appointment to visit and tour 150 acres of maple syrup heaven, or come on down to the Maple Syrup Festival in Vergas in early April.  For your enjoyment, consider stopping by the Dent area and picking up your own bottle of Camp Aquila Pure Maple Syrup.