Liquid Gold – Koopmans Mountain Maple
Being the best in the business certainly requires dedication to perfection, yet it doesn’t take away from Carrie Koopmans’ main priority.
By Phil Norton
For Carrie Koopmans the road to success isn’t paved with gold. In fact, the side road through their family’s farm is a bumpy, muddy lane where you better have four-wheel drive just after snow-melt. But once you get past the cornfields and across the creek you enter a sheltered forest at the base of a mini mountain where they perform their magic. Out here away from the rush, they produce some of the world’s best maple syrup, liquid gold.
Koopmans Mountain Maple in Prince Edward County, Ontario has been ranking at or near the top of the maple classes at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair for the past 7 years. It’s truly a family affair as Carrie and her husband Chris and their two children, Myla, 10, and Isaac, 6, spend much of early spring out in the woods at the sugarhouse. For Carrie it’s a juggling act between caring for the children and sharing in the constant tasks of getting the sap from the trees to the evaporator and assisting with monitoring the temperature and density as it boils down to syrup.
Being the best in the business certainly requires dedication to perfection, yet it doesn’t take away from her main priority.
“Family always comes first, business second,” she says. “Raising our children in this business is a great opportunity for them. Children learn more from our actions than our words. We involve them in actual production as much as we safely can. They help tap trees and they help fill the wood trolley when we are boiling sap, they help refill our roadside porch store. They hang out with us in the woods when we are repairing lines and doing maintenance.”
In 2014, Koopmans Mountain Maple won Reserve Grand Champion for maple syrup and in 2016 was awarded the C.P. Corbett Trophy for the exhibitor with the highest total score for the maple product classes such as Soft Maple Sugar Candy.
Farming was never far in the background as Carrie was growing up. Her extended family was well-known for their beef cattle, and her father and grandfather, Paul and Terry Whalen, had a passion for making syrup.
“So of course when on a date with Chris he mentioned that he collected sap every spring, I knew I had to stick with this sweet guy.”
For 14 years she worked in a dentist office commuting 45 minutes each way; then she spent three years working in a law office while the children were in daycare. Those were long days. So it made life easier for everyone when Carrie put her professional skills to work at home on the family business.
Back then, Carrie would sell their syrup to customers on the front porch with one arm holding a toddler. Now they still have the tourist traffic plus a few retail outlets within The County and in the city of Belleville where she used to work.
Besides trudging through snow banks in January to install the plastic tubing and drilling 900 holes and hammering in the spouts, the sugarhouse requires some high-tech savvy these days. An expensive RO (reverse osmosis) uses a semi-permeable membrane to eliminate a large percentage of the sap’s moisture content prior to boiling it down in the evaporator. Modernizing saves on boiling time and costs. Carrie points out that you have to spend money to make money.
“It comes down to passion, and love for your craft. So spending money to make it possible sometimes isn’t a worry.”
Besides caring for the kids, preparing meals, and assisting with the syrup production, Carrie keeps the financial books, handles the office computer tasks and labels the bottles. And she runs her own hand-poured soybean wax candle business out of her kitchen. What keeps her going?
“God,” she says without a doubt. “I lean on my faith for everything. I know He has a plan for us, and our little operation.”
“I’ve settled over the years that happiness and positive energy set you up for success.” And she shares her personal recipe for success with other women in business: “Trust God, Hustle and Rest.”
“I trust that He will guide me and provide me with what I need to provide for my husband and my children, and then my community. I use our syrup business and my candle company business as way to share my faith and encourage others.”
“My family keeps me motivated every day to show up and be the best I can be.” She refers to the Bible for her daily refill of wisdom and guidance. Her go-to verse when she feels discouraged is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans, I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And to keep her hustling, it’s Colossians 3:23: “whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart.” She believes that if you only put in half the effort you will only get half the results.
“I learned that from a fitness trainer. I have taken that and remind myself daily that I need to put my heart into everything I do. Learning to rest is important too so you don’t burn yourself out.” She says weather plays a factor in all farming so on those days when the weather isn’t great, it’s time to take a break. She believes having a routine helps too.
“I have a routine that helps me with my success. It’s filling my cup every morning so I can pour into my family and into my community. I wake up and do workouts, I then pray and read my Bible devotion, and then I go into Mom mode. Once the kids are at school, then I am in work mode. I help with our three businesses when things are needed.”
By looking at life each day through a spiritual lens, Carrie feels empowered. In life and business, and especially on the farm, there are always unexpected difficulties to overcome.
“Adapting to the challenges that you face will bring the success in any business,” she says. “Continue to learn and grow.”