NEVA, Wis. – Jeremy Solin has maintained a connection to the land he grew up on, through his family sugar bush north of Antigo near Neva. The annual ritual of syrup-making on the Solin sugar bush has become a community affair – and that’s exactly what Solin and his wife, Abi Solin, want. They normally invite neighbors throughout the syrup season to participate in tapping and collecting sap. It’s been expanded to an annual farm-to-table dinner event at the sugar bush, with a five-course meal complete with cocktails. Jeremy Solin dubbed it “The Tappening.”

On any given day during syrup season three generations of Solins can be found working in the woods. The family taps anywhere from 200 to 800 trees annually, depending on their strategy for producing their unique line of flavor-infused maple-syrup products. They purchase sap from neighboring sugar bushes to fulfill their production requirements. In 2019 the Solins marketed 800 gallons of finished product throughout Wisconsin as well as to the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Tapped Maple Syrup LLC is co-owned by Abi and Jeremy Solin. His father, Dave Solin, manages the majority of the maple-syrup operation.

The couple resides in Stevens Point, Wisconsin; during syrup season Jeremy Solin makes the trek weekly to his ancestral sugar bush to help with syrup-making. The creation of the business was a strategy to keep the sugar-bush property in the Solin family, who settled there in 1917.

“We needed a revenue source to be able to maintain and care for that land,” Solin said.

He paraphrased rural philosopher Wendell Berry in describing the family’s goal.

“The only way to avoid the industrialization and destruction of land is to maintain a working relationship with it,” he said.

Solin grew up in the logging business, which gave him first-hand experience in commodity production – where the “get big or get out” mentality prevails, he said. Several years ago his wife found a recipe for ginger-infused maple syrup; they both loved it. They believed by creating a line of specialized maple products they could avoid the commodity-production model. They continuously experiment with unique flavors and work to produce infused products that marry flavors, not that overpower the maple syrup.

Solin is currently a learning-hub coordinator for Grassland 2.0. That’s an extensive project – a collaborative effort between farmers, researchers, and public- and private-sector leaders working to develop pathways for increased farmer profitability while improving water quality, soil health, biodiversity and climate resistance through grassland-based agriculture. Solin has a degree in water resources from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He has a master’s degree in environmental education from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and a doctorate in sustainability education from Prescott University in Arizona

Wis. Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-71-Stevens Point, in 2019 nominated Tapped Maple Syrup for the annual “Coolest thing made in Wisconsin” contest.

“Not only do the Solins make tremendous products, but they do so while prioritizing family, community, and respect for and connection to the land,” Shankland said at the time.

The company made it to the second-to-last round; it was the only small company left at that point, Solin said.

“It was an honor to go that far in the voting,” he said.

The Solin syrup-product line includes craft-infused, barrel-aged and pure maple syrup. The infused syrups include cardamom, cinnamon, espresso, ginger, ginseng, red pepper and turmeric. The family has also developed a partnership with Great Northern Distilling in Plover, Wisconsin, to produce barrel-aged maple syrups. The barrel-aged syrups are richly flavored, taking on the deep flavors of oak and aged spirits. The family also makes an “old fashioned cocktail” syrup.

“It’s a little more complex with infused flavors and a bitters element,” Solin said.

He believes every sugar bush produces unique maple syrup, he said. The Solin sugar bush is located at the base of the glacial moraine north of Antigo.

“The quality and grade of maple syrup is also influenced by the cooking process,” he said. “We tend to produce a dark, rich, smoky-flavored syrup.”

The Solins mix modern with traditional when it comes to syrup making. They hang 5-gallon pails when doing the tapping. They haven’t used labor-saving vacuum suction to collect sap; they prefer hand collection. Solin said he thinks the jury is still out on whether the suction method is potentially damaging to trees through time.

The Solins use reverse osmosis to remove some of the water from sap, then cook it with a wood-fired stove and a Waterloo stainless-steel evaporator with a ventilation hood.

“It’s a big improvement from the old flat pan days,” he said.

The couple’s children – Simon, 17, Ella, 14, and Clara, 9 – are the fifth generation of Solins participating in the annual routine of syrup-making on the family sugar bush.

“Making maple syrup is a spring ritual that keeps us connected to the land and our family,” Solin said. “We are all stewards of the forest, and the health and well-being of that ecosystem is foremost in the decisions we make to manage it.”

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Greg Galbraith, a former dairy farmer who owns woodlot property in eastern Marathon County, Wisconsin, writes about the rapidly changing nature of the agricultural landscape. He has built a lifetime connection to the land and those who farm it.