Made in the Northwest: Athol Orchards’ Mapleshed Project

ATHOL, Idaho — When we first visited Athol Orchards a year ago, its homemade apple cider syrup, which owner and orchardist Nikki Conley created on her own, was gaining in popularity.

“It turned into this nice, thick, spicy hug in a bottle. It was like a hug. And it’s like having a hug on your pancakes and a hug on your foods,” said Conley at the time.

It had also just launched what became a successful Kickstarter campaign, giving it the funds needed to complete its farm based, commercial kitchen on the Conley’s property.

“Now that the kitchen’s built, the sky’s kind of the limit,” said Conley. “We have a lot of plans for new products we want to roll out.”

And the first product is a maple syrup. It’s something Nikki and her husband, Erreck, had dreamed of trying since visiting maple sugaring farms in the Northeast on their honeymoon.

“Once we were back east and we saw that, we knew that maple sugaring was something we wanted to try someday.”

But there’s two problems with making maple syrup here. One, you need a lot of sap.

“The typical ratio is 40 gallons of sap can produce one gallon of maple syrup.”

And two, the Northwest doesn’t have native maple trees.

“But we do have them everywhere in landscaping,” said Conley. “They line people’s driveways. They have them in their front yards, their back yards.”

So the Conleys established the North Idaho Mapleshed Project, which is essentially a collective of maple trees.

“When the property owners register their trees, we go out and tap their trees, we harvest their sap, we bring it back here to our amazing, farm based kitchen and we’re able to boil it down and process it and filter it, bottle it. And all of a sudden, we have enough that we can actually sell to the public.”

Conley hopes they’ll have enough to sell by sometime in the spring of 2021. And Conley says as they add more maple trees to the project, “We will eventually have a larger production every year.”

In the meantime, she’s hosting maple sugaring workshops for small groups.

“They all leave just appreciating what had to be done, the toils that had to take place, in order to produce this little bottle of maple syrup.”

And maple syrup is far from the only product Athol Orchards plans to roll out in 2021.

“We’re going to be starting some apple butters, some pumpkin butters. We’re going to have a barbeque line with some rubs and some sauces.”

It’s all part of Conley’s dream that’s starting to come full circle.

“We produce the things, we grow the things, it comes in here and it becomes something amazing.”