Extension Logo
Extension Logo
University of Minnesota Extension

Cook County Farm Family

Sawtooth Mountain Maple Syrup Company

In the 1970s, Kirstin van den Berg and her brother, Chris Cordes, got their start maple sugaring as youngsters growing up in Chisago County. They used gallon milk jugs to collect sap and boiled it in a large, flat pan over an open wood fire. In 1986, Chris started a more serious operation on his property near Almelund in Chisago County. With his parents, Jim and Marianne, Chris expanded to several hundred taps, built a larger sugar house, and invested in a wood-fired evaporator. In 1995, Kirstin joined her brother and parents in the operation. Kirstin’s husband Greg Nichols and son, Calvin Waddell, are currently part of the business as well. 

Later that year there was an opportunity for the families to purchase 320 acres of sugar maple forest in Lutsen, in the heart of the Superior National Forest. The next year the families started building their homes, a sugarhouse/bottling building, and their sap collection network. The following year, the families harvested their first crop of sap from 6,000 taps and started a new business: Wild Country Maple Products.

Over the years the operation grew. More taps were added, and equipment was updated. The families focused on selling syrup directly to consumers. In 2002, the operation was officially designated as certified organic, and sales were expanded to the Twin Cities co-op and natural foods marketplace. In 2013, Sawtooth Mountain Maple Syrup Company was formed, focusing solely on the production side of maple sugaring. 

Today, Sawtooth Mountain Maple Syrup Company uses 29,000 taps producing between 7,000 and 8,500 gallons of finished maple syrup annually. Trees are tapped starting in January and harvest takes place in March and April. In total, the families have a combined 100-plus years of maple-syrup-making experience.

The families are members of the Minnesota Maple Syrup Producers Association and the Minnesota Farmers Union. For eight years, Kirstin was on the Cook County Extension Committee. Family members give presentations on their craft to kids at local elementary schools, they donate syrup to a wide variety of fundraising events including youth camps, fire departments, school functions, and local raffles and silent auctions.

Family members give talks and tours promoting maple syrup production and mentor new sugar makers. Kirstin has written articles for the Minnesota Grown program and retail store publications. She is currently working with several Minnesota school districts and their Farm to School grant awards.

Page survey

© 2023 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved. The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.