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From Music To A Labyrinth — From Sap To Maple Syrup

Allow me to introduce the husband and wife team of Mitchell and Linda Omichinski via this Grainewspage. Linda is a registered dietitian and she and Mitch owned “Plums Restaurant” during their younger years. My middle son Chris who is a trained 120 bass accordion player, once upon a time entertained at Plums. Chris is the only musician I know of who plays both accordion and a piano together at the same time. He transfers back and forth at will from the accordion treble side to right-hand piano keys, while still playing the accordion bass buttons.


Mitch and Linda Omichinski live, work, eat and sleep about as close to the land as anyone I’ve met. “The whole part of who we are is working with nature,” Linda told me. “No chemicals, no fertilizers, no sprays of any kind” are ever used on their small holding on the southeastern outskirts of Portage la Prairie, Man. It is just a kilometre west from the Hoop and Holler Bend where a cut was made in the dike and flood waters released onto nearby farmland this past spring. Fortunately, the Omichinskis were not flooded.

Hoop and Holler made frequent national and local print and broadcast media headlines at that time, including extensive coverage on CBC-TV, CTV and Global National TV newscasts. I’ve since visited the spot where the cut was made and took numerous pictures, then topped it off by writing a song about Hoop and Holler. Highway 331 that hugs the curve around the Hoop finally reopened in early August.


I could tell you about the fabulous Home Routes house music concerts Linda and Mitch hosted in their home for two years, many of which I attended. During intermissions, numerous snacks and refreshing drinks were generously provided, including Mitch’s tasty homemade apple and cinnamon chips. Every penny from ticket sales went to the entertainers, who also received a free night’s lodging and breakfast courtesy of their hosts.

In the Omichinski backyard is found a labyrinth whose paved stone pathways calm and communicate with those who tread their way among a maze of foliage and flowers. I, Ted, have personally walked this colourful, seasonally changing expanse of perennials and native plants that rely solely on Mother Earth for survival. Linda expressed it this way: “You can have the experience of meditatively walking it at your pace for however long.”

The Omichinskis’ most recent adventure was hosting a first-ever summer yard and barn picnic with an open-pit barbecue and live concert this past August. A double musical event captured the afternoon and evening. It began with a foursome named TWIN, led by 33-year-old canoe enthusiast and singer-songwriter David Fort from Winnipeg, co-ordinator of the 2011 Assiniboine River Music Armada team. TWIN performed both on an open-air stage and from a loft in the red barn. More splendid music followed, with delightful, smooth, sweet vocals by Tannis Slimmon and Lewis Melville, a multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer, both from Guelph, Ont.


… and doesn’t cost nearly two grand an ounce. As Linda Omichinski put it: “Sure, it may not be a low-calorie treat, but the sticky syrup that simply oozes ‘Canadiana’ may also be loaded with lots of healthy compounds and antioxidants.”

Eventually, Mitch and I chatted… about tapping trees for their sap and this year’s maple syrup. He mentioned how he “was always intrigued about tapping maple trees even as a kid, but never really got a chance to try it” until he retired from his professional life as a mechanical engineer.

In 2004, Mitch began looking at harvesting sap from a grove of maple trees near the Delta Marsh Field Station at the southern tip of Lake Manitoba. The sap was rendered down at the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie. Friends of the Field Station then sold it as a fundraiser.

Now let’s move forward to 2011. Realizing that maple trees are abundant in his own area, Mitch began “producing maple syrup as a more serious matter.” All told, this year Mitch and Linda ran about 600 taps on four properties throughout their immediate home neighbourhood and adjoining sites, relying solely on Manitoba maple and silver maple trees. Mitch mentioned that silver maples “are a great source of sap. They’re very productive sugar bushes and outshine Manitoba maples almost two to one.” He pointed out, “the availability of silver maples for tapping is limited, whereas Manitoba maples are more practical as they just grow everywhere in abundance and are itching to be tapped.”

I asked about this spring’s weather for tapping. Mitch described it “as kind of exceptional. In fact it was very, very good,” he said. “There was a good string of many days in April with temps ranging from -5 C to +5 C, allowing the sap to flow and flow just like a pump. It’s got to be that freeze-thaw cycle to get lots of high sugar quality. A good season can run the entire month. If it turns warm and stays warm, then you don’t have any season at all.”


… according to Mitch “is a ratio of 30 to one, meaning for every 30 parts of sap, you’ll get one part of syrup.” He pointed out “a mature tree can produce an average of 10 to 15 litres of sap, resulting in about a half-litre of syrup. Collecting is done by hand; usually once a day and sap is poured into 200-litre barrels.” Mitch then transports the precious liquid to the same food development facility mentioned earlier, where it’s refrigerated and ultimately reduced via reverse osmosis to subtract about two-thirds of the water. Then it’s steam kettle boiled to become maple syrup. As Mitch explained, “the whole thing is quite a detailed process.”

Mitch says, in 2012 “we’d like to expand to include another 100 taps or so and become even more mechanized.” Anyone interested in talking to Mitch or finding out more can phone him at (204) 428-6800.


Researchers report that maple syrup seems to have some of the same anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory compounds as other well-known “super foods.” Also, initial studies suggest that maple syrup properties may help keep blood sugar levels in check. In total, over 50 compounds were identified, five of which are considered quite unique. They also found maple syrup contains a wide variety of polyphenols. One specific compound is of particular interest as it’s only created during the process of boiling down maple sap into maple syrup.

There’s consensus that not everything is totally known yet and more needs to be fully explored. But, it certainly appears that benefits indicated so far are thrusting maple syrup toward the super-food circle. On the other side of the coin, a Canadian scientist has reservations with parts of the maple syrup hype touting health benefits. In essence, he agreed that healthy compounds are present, but were not available in sufficient quantity to make maple syrup a health food, especially because of the sugar.

Regardless, a Montreal dietitian points out that any food undergoing little to no processing provides greater health benefits. “We have reason to be proud of our 100 per cent maple syrup. Unique flavour makes it a versatile addition to countless culinary creations.”

For example, Jeff Mialkowski, executive head chef at Hrfrost in Portage la Prairie proudly told me he uses “Neighborhood Maple Syrup” every day in food preparation, served in the restaurant of which he is one of the owners. “I use it in maple fries, maple pig cheeks and maple pork tenderloin, grilled on a cedar plank.” Jeff describes his saucy maple fries as “a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy, a little bit tangy,” to which I Ted, say, “move over poutine. Maple fries is the latest craze.” Overall, Jeff has some great creative cooking ideas and needs no convincing maple syrup’s beautiful, delicate flavour shows tremendous potential with multiple uses in cooking.

ThisisTedMeseytontheSingingGardener andGrow-ItPoetfromPortagelaPrairie,Man. What’sthedifferencebetweenamarriedman andabachelor?Onekissesthemissusandthe othermissesthekisses.Iqualifyforthelatter. Withoutamissus,Ikeeppuremaplesyrup closetomyheartandusesomeeverytime ImakemyownMapleSyrupTedTonic.My emailaddressis [email protected]


Sue Armstrong

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About the author


Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.



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