Natick Community Organic Farm takes steps after discovering lead in maple syrup

NATICK — After discovering lead in its maple syrup, the Natick Community Organic Farm has taken several steps to replace equipment and update its best practices ahead of the coming maple sugaring season.

In an email to community members on Monday, the farm announced that multiple tests had determined lead was present in the syrup. Amounts differed between batches, though all were below Massachusetts’ allowable limit of 250 parts per billion.

Still, the farm said in a follow-up statement that the amount of lead in the syrup was “at levels higher than we would like.” The farm declined to comment on the specific amount of lead present.

In this file photo, Natick Community Organic Farm Director Casey Townsend places buckets on sugar maples trees on Feb. 12, 2021.

In this file photo, Natick Community Organic Farm Director Casey Townsend places buckets on sugar maples trees on Feb. 12, 2021.

Testing was conducted in the summer of 2021 as part of a review of the farm’s maple syrup production process, as the farm is seeking a Massachusetts Commonwealth Quality Seal for its syrup. Commonwealth Quality certified maple syrup producers follow strict food safety standards and routinely test equipment and products for contaminants, per the state.

According to the farm’s email, which was signed by Executive Director Casey Townsend and Board of Directors President Mary DeBlois, the lead came from galvanized metal buckets, a canner and older taps used to collect sap and bottle syrup.

“The leadership of Natick Community Organic Farm takes our responsibility as a provider of healthy, locally sourced food products very seriously and we thought it was important to share this information with you,” Townsend and DeBlois wrote.

In its follow-up statement, the farm said it had decided to proactively share the news “as part of our educational mission of farming in the public eye.”

While they said the presence of lead in the broader environment makes it impossible to eliminate all traces of lead in the syrup, Townsend and DeBlois noted several steps the farm has taken to reduce levels, including:

  • Replacing metal buckets with plastic ones, obtaining a new canner and discarding older taps.

  • Removing any remaining syrup in its store from circulation to prevent it from being served or sold.

  • Consulting with maple sugaring extension agents and scientists for guidance on reducing lead to the lowest possible levels.

  • Informing the town and providing details on plans to address the issue.

The farm first learned of the issue last summer, at which point it removed all syrup from circulation, according to a separate FAQ posted on its website. It took several months for farm leaders to research the topic, consult with experts and plan next steps, according to the FAQ.

The farm invited anyone with remaining Natick Community Organic Farm syrup to return the products for a refund.

“New equipment, updated training and other improvements to our maple syrup production are now in place for this season,” Townsend and DeBlois assured.

They said the farm will consult with experts and updated guidance, test its syrup annually and continue pursuing the Commonwealth Quality Seal certification.

“We will continue to update you on the improvements to our maple sugaring program and syrup production to assure that this enjoyable tradition for our community maintains high quality standards,” they wrote.

Abby Patkin is a multimedia journalist for the Daily News. Follow Abby on Twitter @AMPatkin. She can be reached at [email protected].

This article originally appeared on MetroWest Daily News: Natick MA Community Organic Farm finds lead in maple syrup, takes action