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“Sticking” to the basics

Move over mass-produced imitation syrup brands like Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Buttersworth; there are three new queens on the syrup scene.  Three Queens Organic Maple Syrup is hitting local farmers markets for the first time this season, including Loyola’s.

“It has really taken off,” says owner Christine Fisher of Oak Park, Illinois. “We’re going to be in four different farmers markets.”

Three Queens Organic was founded in 2010 after Fisher and her husband, Mark, bought land in Westby, Wisconsin.

The self-proclaimed “urban farmers” were in the market for a second home and wound up in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, known for its picturesque rolling hills and valleys.

Instead of a home, they came across a 200-acre plot of land that had been tilled since the region was settled in the 1860’s.

“We had people come on the land to tell us what trees were what,” Fisher says.

After learning that the land was home to 80 acres of maple trees and its sloping landscape allowed for easy tapping, the Fishers decided to tap the trees for sap and try their hand at maple syrup.

Fisher said she never imagined she would be in the syrup business.

“It has just been a really cool experience,” she says.

She and her husband have come to know their Westby neighbors, some of whom are Amish, and have provided small loans to local farmers who help out during their production in the spring.

Prior to purchasing land in Westby, the family lived in Europe for two years where Fisher fell in love with its thriving art culture. While it was not initially clear how she would do it, Fisher knew she wanted Three Queens Organic to embody that appreciation for the arts.

“Syrup is syrup, but how can we make it cool?” she asks. “I wanted it to be a craft.”

The imported Italian bottles aside, everything about Three Queens is local, from the workers who tap the trees to the artwork on the label—even their kids help out!

The name Three Queens Organic was inspired in part by the three grades of maple syrup—amber, dark, and very dark—but also by artist Sandra Dawson’s folk art.

Dawson, a painter in Chicago, has three queens, one of which resides over Fisher’s fireplace.

“I definitely knew we were going to use Sandra’s work,” Fisher says. One evening, when Fisher looked up at her painting of Senorita Merado, which is featured on the Very Dark syrup label, it all came to her.

Three Queens Organic also donates 15 percent of its profits to local art programs in Oak Park and the Driftless Area.

“Everything is so hard hit,” Fisher says, “and the arts always get [put] last on the list.”

Eventually, they hope that Three Queens Organic will make its way into local specialty shops.

Other than the alfalfa and oats that grow on the other 120 acres, Fisher says Three Queens Organic plans to remain a small, local business that gives back to the community.

“We’re sticking to what we like.”

The Loyola Farmers Market occurs each Monday (through October 14) on the southwest corner of Albion and Sheridan roads in Rogers Park. During the summer (June 10 to September 23), the market is open from 3-7 p.m. Beginning September 30, the market’s hours shift to 2:30-6:30 p.m. For more information on the market, please visit LUC.edu/farmersmarket.

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