He heads the Estrie region for its maple syrup producers, but it’s by no means his introduction to the way of life. Joël Larrivée is part of the 3rd generation of his family on their sugar bush at Saint-Adrien-de-Ham. “I was even born during sugaring season,” he laughs.
the son of innovators
Joël Larrivée speaks of his parents as innovators, one of the first in the region to use tubing and an osmosis unit. “Back then, you couldn’t get that kind of equipment here. They bought it in Ontario,” he explains. He grew up in the sugar bush. “When I was 14, I helped my dad set up the operation around our home.”
old traditions and new ways
Joël needed an important life skill before taking over the family business: patience. “The business wasn’t profitable enough to support two families and my dad wasn’t ready to retire. So I had to get a job elsewhere for a while. I finally bought it in 1998,” he remembers. At that time, it had 20,000 taps. Another 5,000 were added with the purchase of neighbouring businesses, mostly in bulk production. Then, in 2016, they went organic. While they modernized quite rapidly, some traditional aspects remain, such as wood heating and a working horse which, in an exquisite blend of old and new, helped with the tubing installation. And Joël takes great joy in another important element of continuity: like his parents, he will pass the torch to another generation. It will be the 4th in his family.
the power of teamwork
Joël Larrivée is not only a full-time maple producer. From 2016 until 2020, he’s been president of the Syndicat de Producteurs et productrices acéricoles de l’Estrie. Before that, he was the region’s administrator.
“I started by going to meetings for information, especially about the quotas. One thing led to another and I got more and more involved, volunteering as administrator and finally becoming president.”
Humbly, Joël adds that people weren’t exactly jostling for those positions in the region. They were simply there for the taking. The issue of public lands is particularly close to his heart. He has nothing but good words for the regional administrators and secretary with whom he’s worked to get things done.