Sideline and Lifeline: The Cultural Economy of Maple Syrup Production


  • An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 1993 annual meetings of the Rural Sociological Society. The research was supported through a Canadian Studies Graduate Student Fellowship from the Canadian Embassy, Washington, D.C., and by Hatch funds provided by the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station in conjunction with USDA/CSRS Regional Research Project S-229. I am grateful for comments and observations about this work from Yvonne Beaudoin, Tom Beckley, Jill Belsky, Gil Gillespie,Jim Lassoie, Lois Levitan, Tom Lyson, Fred Schmidt and the anonymous reviewers.


Abstract Why do people engage in economically minor resource production activities? This field study of Vermont and Quebec maple syrup producers and their households and enterprises examines the diversion of motivations and concerns m contemporary maple syrup production. Farmers, former farmers, and non-farmers all produce maple syrup. The concept of embeddedness provides a framework for understanding how producers understand their involvement with maple syrup, by highlighting the social and cultural context of economic action. An embeddedness perspective emphasizes how other work activities, household relations, the surrounding community, and the resource environment shape the possibilities for and understandings of minor resource production activities. Maple syrup generally only supplemented the household income of the 76 producers interviewed. Producers articulated a cultural economy of syrup production centered on its contribution to overall livelihood, cultural identity, and lifestyle. Reasons included managing risks, making seasonal use of land and labor resources, developing a retirement income, demonstrating a rural, agrarian identity, and strengthening family and community ties. Implications for policy include the place of minor resource production activities in securing rural livelihoods and providing cultural anchors in rural regions experiencing demographic and economic change.