On a mild spring day in 2015, David Knudson had an uncharacteristic amount of time on his hands. He had recently left his job as a cheese maker at Lifeline Creamery to stay home with his children.
Standing in his yard and looking up at the trees in front of his house, Knudson felt a spark of inspiration and realized what his next big project was going to be.
He would make maple syrup.
The following day, he bought supplies to tap the trees in his residential Missoula neighborhood.
It was past the maple sugaring season, so he held on to the newly purchased equipment and tapped trees for the first time in 2016.
“I’ve always been this overly zealous entrepreneur about making things out of unwanted resources, and that’s what mushroomed my maple syrup project. It happened unintentionally. I have a lot of trees, and I made a crapload of syrup.” Knudson said.
However, climate change is having a direct impact on maple syrup production, because tree tapping is dependent on weather conditions.
Inconsistent starts to the sugaring season due to warming temperatures and changes in freeze and thaw cycles are threatening traditional maple syrup producers and requiring the industry to adapt.
TAPPING MAPLE trees is one of the oldest food traditions in North America. Native Americans began the practice of making maple syrup from sap long before Europeans arrived.
According to the USDA’s Maple Syrup Production report, 3.42 million gallons were produced in the United States in 2021.
Knudson is the only licensed maple syrup producer in Montana. He operates Montana MapleWorks with a cottage food license, which, according to the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services, allows certain food items to be produced in a home kitchen and sold directly to the consumer.
Knudson refers to himself as an agriculturalist. While living in Santa Rosa, California, he attended New College of California, which no longer exists, and studied ecological agriculture, learning how to live a more sustainable lifestyle in changing times.
He has always been interested in botany and trees and the connection with food and its systems.
Knudson spent some time working in a brewery in San Francisco and liked knowing which farms produced the hops they used and that East Bay dairy farmers were using the mash from the brewery’s spent grain.
After a stint working on an organic farm in Missouri, Knudson moved to Missoula, where his mom lived, and started working for Lifeline Creamery in Victor, Montana.
During the summer months, Knudson stays busy growing table grapes on land he purchased in the Bitterroot Valley. Around Valentine’s Day, before the trees begin to bud, the maple sugaring season begins.
“That’s when the temperature swing starts happening and the trees start flowing.” Knudson said.
IN MONTANA’S Bitterroot Valley, the Daly Mansion sits between the Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountain …….