BY DEANNA ROLLINS
Driving into Elmira, home of the “World’s Largest Single Day Maple Syrup Festival,” you see horse-drawn buggies lining the sides of the main road, with Mennonites selling fresh maple syrup for the low price of only $40 per four litre jug.
You turn onto a side street and see signs that read “park in this driveway for only $5 a spot.”
So far, you’ve spent $45 and you haven’t even made it to Sap Fest yet.
Next thing you know, you’re walking down Arthur Street on April 1, the main street in Elmira, following the sound of approximately 60,000 people crowding the downtown streets of this 10,000-person town.
You walk around a bend in the street and stop in your tracks, wondering how in the world you’re going to see everything this festival has to offer; all you can see right now are people’s shoulders brushing against one another as they squeeze through the severely overpopulated street, but you strut forward anyway.
Walking down the street you hear the same few words uttered almost every second. “Excuse me” and “Oh, I’m sorry.”
With every step you take, the smell of street meat and fresh ground coffee grows richer. You see people holding food you’ve never seen before. Like tornado potatoes, pickles on sticks and, of course, giant turkey legs.
You think to yourself, “I’ll have one of each please.”
So you go looking for these things. But on your way you stop to buy the best scone you’ve ever eaten ($2.50) and a beautiful leather-bound notebook ($50).
At this point, you hear one of the most beautiful sounds you’ve ever heard, Fernan Enriquez playing his pan flute. You gravitate toward the music. Entranced by how talented this man is, you don’t even notice that the pickles on the stick are right next to him. You find yourself walking in circles trying to find them. Finally, after the third time you walk past Enriquez, you see the pickles. You buy one ($2) and take the first bite. You are slightly underwhelmed by the fact that it’s not anything special, just a somewhat larger than normal dill pickle – on a stick.
While you are holding it, the juice sliding uncomfortably down your arm, you see someone walk by with a tornado potato. You stop them and ask them where they got it, they point, you smile and you’re on your way after thanking them.
Note: Asking people where something is when the thing you’re looking for is right in front of you happens a lot at Sap Fest.
You stand in line and you wait for what feels like an hour just to get this thinly sliced potato, twisted perfectly onto a stick.
You get to the front of the line, finally, and the girl takes your money ($5) and you get your potato – one that gets too cold, too fast and tastes, again, sort of underwhelming.
Determined to find something that rocks your taste buds, you set off to find the giant turkey legs.
Distracted by the smell of campfire, you follow your nose rather than your stomach to try and find the fire. You come across a group of people standing in a huge circle around two tiny fires with two pots hanging above them. A sticky brown liquid coming to a boil in these pots is about to create the stickiest, most delicious and fresh taffy ($2) you’ve ever eaten.
It’s practically maple syrup on a stick, but you can’t stop eating it until your head is having a sugar rush that you just can’t shake. Water ($3) is the only thing that will rinse out your mouth enough for you to be able to eat that turkey leg you’ve been yearning for all day.
Finally, your time has come. You have found the giant legs and are determined to get one. So you stand in line to buy a ticket, to stand in another line to get your turkey leg ($9).
A guy on the street gawks at the price and says, “Nine dollars for a turkey leg? I can buy a whole turkey for that price!”
Your excitement helps you drown this man out. You’ve been waiting for this all day; it doesn’t matter how much it cost you.
You finally have this glorious piece of meat in your fingers. You take your first bite and it’s everything you’d hoped it would be. Your mouth waters more and more with every bite.
You’re 10 bites in and you realize that you’re not even close to halfway done, and you definitely can’t finish it. You just wasted nine whole dollars.
After all is said and done, you had a great day … Until you look at your wallet. $118.50 spent today, not including the knick-knacks you bought and the snacks for later.
Going to Sap Fest as a kid was so different than this. It wasn’t about the money back then, it was about the sense of community and everyone coming together to celebrate the town. It was about making money for local clubs, like the Optimist and Lions clubs.
People still come for the community and cultural immersion. They come from other cities, provinces and even countries just to visit Elmira on the first Saturday of every April, and they have for the last 52 years.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like it’s meant for the community anymore; it feels like it’s all about the revenue the city and clubs can make off the festival, rather than showing the world their community and culture.
It started out with a mere 10,000 visitors on April 10, 1965, a small number compared to the over 60,000 who attended this year.
I remember going to Sap Fest as a kid. I remember getting $20 from my mom for anything I wanted. I usually bought apple fritters and suckers and just kept and saved the leftover money. This year, apple fritters alone were over $20 a box.
I remember when the turkey legs used to be $5 and the pickles on sticks used to be $1.
I want them to bring the culture and community back and make this festival less about how much money they can make and more about the town. I hate going to festivals where everything is about the almighty dollar.
Especially Sap Fest.