What began as a hobby and a way to spend time together for Erica and Spencer Hogan has become so much more.
In 2017, a simple $200 monetary gift from Spencers' late grandfather, Bruce Balfour, prompted the couple to discover new ways to spend time together. The gift came with its own set of stipulations – to be used together with his spouse, and was not to be used to pay bills.
That is when the idea was born. Spencer decided it would be fun to learn to make maple syrup just for themselves.
By leveraging their individual skill sets, the two proceeded to learn the process on their property on St. Joseph Island. The self-taught producers benefited from growing up with other businesses on both sides of their families.
Spencer, an HVAC/refrigeration mechanic, was able to build their first evaporator. He continues work in his trade during maple syrup production season as well.
Erica, a pastry chef with an education in pastry arts, has devoted herself full-time since the beginning while raising their daughter Sophie. She uses that background to create flavour pairings and other tasty products.
In 2019, the Hogans' hobby evolved one step further, and Hogan's Homestead was born and became a company.
COVID-19 presented its own set of challenges during their 2020 production season, which they addressed as issues arose. However, in their island sugar bush of 2,000 taps, all walk-in sales were lost.
The pair developed new and innovative ways to make things work for their company. They expanded a broader wholesale base for grocery stores and local businesses and launched a new website for easy worldwide shopping.
Their social media presence has also allowed them to share content such as recipes, "how-to" videos for maple syrup, and much more.
"If the pandemic taught us anything, it was to adapt to a new change almost every day," Erica Hogan told SooToday. "The trick we are still trying to learn though is now to be one step ahead in this situation as any business owner is trying. By creating new streams for our product it will essentially set us up for success in the future because we are learning new ways of business. It's made us be creative."
An expansion to the pair's operations happened in August of 2020 when they acquired the Superior Maple Operation from the Henson family who started their operation in 2010 in Goulais River.
"We can't wait to see the opportunities we will create for the community and the company," said Hogan.
Production season is generally short, lasting just a few months give or take depending on the weather and conditions. Tapping generally starts in January, lasting 20 - 30 days for the now 30,000-tap facility. The same amount of time is spent at the end of the season, removing and cleaning equipment. The sales side of the business continues year-round.
Currently, the Hogans employ five key team members year-round and another five during syrup production season. Future growth and product expansion will see more team members come on board as needed.
This year, Hogan's Homestead has entered into a new partnership with Blaq Bear Eco Adventure Routes who provides guided snowshoe hikes to the public through the sugar bush.
Two-hour snowshoe tours are led by Carole Blaquiere who guided participants through the maple syrup production process, finishing up in the gift shop of the facility. Tours began on March 6 and will continue throughout the season observing COVID-19 guidelines.
"Both Spencer and myself, along with some family members like my father-in-law, have found peace walking through our sugar bush, especially after the passing of our youngest daughter in October 2020. It has helped us heal. Nature truly has that effect on people, and if something as simple as a guided hike does that for someone's mental health, then we want to share that with them," explained Hogan.
The Hogans are very excited about this partnership and regard it as an important stepping stone to the vision they have for the company's future and the community at large. Promoting hikes is just the beginning of things to come as they transition the whole experience to a destination with additional activities in development.
"This is absolutely important for our community. With this pandemic, a lot of people found the value in family time again, which we all forgot with the busy lifestyle. However, now families and friends are looking for an adventure – something to do together and essentially, get out of the house. This partnership is more than just a hike. It's an opportunity for experiences and memories for the guests taking the hike. How often do you get to see a maple syrup operation from that very first drop of sap through a guided hike? Carole and her team are going to be doing a fantastic job," said Hogan.
"We hope that the community will find this program, along with many more to come, valuable in their own way. Even if it's not to be active as the main reason."
The present, Hogan's Homestead sugar bush is located at 1157 Thielman Rd. in Goulais River. It is home to a 30,000-tap operation. The property houses the production facility and the small Sugar Bush Gift Shop which is open during production season.
There is also a smaller gift shop featuring locally produced items located at 96 White Oak Dr. E., inside the Two Brain Workshop/Feeding Your Soul Cafe building.
Now the third-largest maple syrup producer in Algoma, Hogan's Homestead offers a variety of specialty maple products, including infused maple syrup, maple dry rub, maple candy, maple cream, and maple sugar. Their most popular products are cinnamon and vanilla bean-infused maple syrups.
"I would like to thank our community for the ongoing support – through shopping with us, following our journey and being the reason we want to make our community a little bit sweeter, one tapped tree at a time," Hogan said.