One of our favorite things to do on the weekend is explore local sites managed by the trustees of reservations in Massachusetts. We’ve hiked Weir Hill in North Andover, and Holt Hill in Andover, and spent lots of time wandering the gardens at the Stevens-Coolidge House in North Andover.
This weekend we decided to check out Appleton Farms in Ipswich, MA. Founded in 1636 by Samuel Appleton, and once owned by nine generations of the Appleton family, the farm was turned over to the trustees in 1998. Nowadays, the 133 acres of farmland and 16 miles of hiking trails are open to the public year round from sunrise to sunset daily.
Today the farm was holding a special event – maple syrup production and tasting! Addie and I, along with our friend Janet, her dad, husband Greg, and two kids, Elizabeth and Joshua, headed to the farm to learn how maple syrup is made.
After finding a parking spot in the very crowded parking area, we walked through the farm, past barns, stables, and several other buildings, on our way to the Visitor’s Center. It was a gorgeous day, and despite the lingering snow on the ground, it felt a bit like spring was on the way.
Addie enjoyed jumping in every muddy puddle we passed. It wasn’t long before her pants were soaked up to the knees, but that didn’t seem to deter her puddle jumping.
After a very pleasant stroll down a maple tree-lined lane, we reached our destination – the Sugar Shack! A seasonal operation, the Sugar Shack is home to maple syrup production at the farm. Free to all, the folks running the operation explain the process of boiling sap into maple syrup, and the visit includes the chance to collect and taste sap directly from the tapped trees on the farm, as well as sample syrup right from the boiler. I was shocked to learn it takes 40 gallons of sap to make ONE gallon of maple syrup!
After the girls had their fill of syrup, we headed next door to the Visitor’s Center, once the homestead of the Appleton family. It has since been completely renovated and is now a “green” building. The girls settled into one of the education areas for younger children and colored in printed pictures of the maple syrup production process.
The rest of us took the opportunity to explore the building, which is beautifully restored. In addition to the education spaces, it includes a museum room dedicated to the history of the Appleton family, as well as a research library.
When Addie and Elizabeth finished their masterpieces, we ambled back to the Dairy Store. On the way we passed a lot of cows, which was a thrilling experience for the girls. Addie observed them chewing their hay with the usual cautious interest she displays when around large farm animals.
We wanted to stay for the “Meet the Cows” event at 2:30 so the girls could watch the milking process and see the calves, but they were both fading fast. Instead, we stopped into the Dairy Store and bought cheese and crackers, and had a little picnic on overturned milk-crates in the adjacent barn. The store, which is open weekdays from 11am to 6pm, and weekends from 10am to 4pm, sells a variety of products made on the farm, including yogurt, milk, cheese, butter, eggs, and beef.
We will definitely be back to visit this spring – there is so much more to see and explore at Appleton farms!
Directions to the farm:
Though there are several entrances to the farm, we used the Dairy Store parking area. However, the Highland Street parking area provides great access to many of the hiking trails.
Visitor Center & Dairy Store Parking Area: From Rt. 128, take Exit 20A, Rt. 1A North. Travel about 6.5 miles north on Rt. 1A and turn left at the Appleton Farms entrance sign (just after entering Ipswich sign). Inside stone gates, follow signs to visitor center or dairy store. Address is 219 County Road, Ipswich.
Waldingfield Rd. Parking Area: From Rt. 128, take Exit 20A, Rt. 1A North. Travel about 7 mi. north on Rt. 1A and turn left onto Waldingfield Rd. to parking area (20 cars) at street corner.
Highland St. Parking Area: From Rt. 128, take Exit 20A, Rt. 1A North. Travel about 4.5 mi. north on Rt. 1A and turn left onto Cutler Rd. Follow for 2.2 mi. At intersection with Highland St., turn right, and right again into parking area (20 cars).