It's an understatement to say COVID-19 has changed how businesses carry out their affairs.
And the maple syrup industry is no different.
Lori Costello, who co-owns Bella Hill Maple Syrup in Nipissing Township with her husband Dan, says there's no doubt the pandemic changed their business.
However, it may not be all bad.
Last year and again this year, COVID has seen the cancellation of the Powassan Maple Syrup Festival, an event Lori Costello says generated about 10 per cent of Bella Hill's annual income.
But while nothing replaced last spring's festival, organizers believe they may be able to hold a festival this year in late summer or early fall.
“A fall festival would coincide with the fall colours,” said Lori Costello, adding maple syrup festivals in the northern American states like Vermont and New Hampshire are a regular occurrence and very big.
“They've been more popular to go then because the weather is nicer,” she said.
“So maybe we can also piggyback on the great weather.”
The Costellos make enough maple syrup to sell year-round, so there's no risk of running out of the product if the local festival takes place about six months later.
So when you're handed lemons in a COVID environment, you find a way to turn those lemons into lemonade, as the Costellos did when last year's festival was cancelled because of the pandemic.
The Costellos introduced porch pick-up of their products to limit client contact because of the virus, but the big and noticeable change was turning to e-commerce.
New to the Bella Hill Maple Syrup website is the ability to now buy its products online.
Costello says people all over began ordering online more often than ever before once COVID restricted where they could go.
So the Costellos joined the throngs of businesses that added online buying to their respective sites.
“People could already see on our website what we had to offer, but e-commerce made it easier so we decided to go there,” she said.
“I'm not sure we would have gone to e-commerce if it hadn't been for COVID.”
Costello says online orders have increased and adds the process of selling online is quick because the customer pays at the same time when placing an order.
The Costellos re-tap their two thousand trees each year and it's a process that takes them four to five days.
With above freezing day-time temperatures expected to begin after this weekend, the sap will start running and the Costellos are ready.
On average they'll produce 3,000 litres of maple syrup each year, but last year was a bumper crop and they came away with 3,300 litres.
But Lori and Dan Costello don't limit themselves to just maple syrup.
Lori Costello says the syrup they produce helps them make a total of 17 value-added products.
She says among those value-added goods are maple butter, maple sugar, maple jelly and sugar candy.
In addition, the Costellos also make maple mustard, maple barbecue sauce and a concoction of wild blueberries infused with maple syrup.
Costello says although the value-added goods are sold online, they're mostly for sale at the North Bay Farmers' Market on Wednesdays and the Temagami Community Market on Saturdays.
The Costellos also appear at the Powassan Farmers' Market.
There are four colour classes of maple syrup; golden, amber, dark and very dark.
The golden and amber colours are made early in the maple syrup season and they are the Costellos' main focus.
They make some dark coloured maple syrup but avoid the very dark syrup because by then the trees have started to bud and Costello says the taste becomes stronger.
Lori Costello says the golden colour maple syrup is what Bella Hill uses in the production of its value-added goods like sugar candy and maple butter.
And the husband and wife team have had enormous success with those value-added products and have the hardware to backup the claim.
At the Royal Winter Fair in 2018, Bella Hill Maple Syrup won the John David Eaton World Championship Cup when their product won in the golden/delicate taste category at the fair.
In addition to selling its maple syrup to the public, Bella Hill Maple Syrup can also be found at Krause Farms in Powassan, Foodland in Callander, Freshmart in Astorville and The Green Store in North Bay.
The small business also offers free deliveries to Powassan, Nipissing and North Bay residents.
Costello says with this year's sap just about ready to start running, she expects Bella Hill Maple Syrup ready for sale before the end of March.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget