BILLINGS - David Knudson of Missoula is the owner of Montana Maple Works and started tapping trees commercially in 2019.
He has a unique approach to his craft, one that’s caught the attention of a local arborist in Billings.
"My business model is very different from the conventional sugar producer that has one large pan and one large sugar shack that makes just one bottle of syrup or maybe a few different grades of dark or light," said Knudson.
What started as a hobby for Knudson built itself into a business and that presented another opportunity.
"I’m really community-focused, the educational component is most important for me. I love teaching people and giving people skills and knowledge and letting them have a taste, literally of the place they live," added Knudson.
Knudson taps multiple types of maple trees throughout Missoula to bring a taste of nature's candy to Montanans.
"I tap trees down in Corvallis at the Daly Mansion and I have trees that I’ll tap in East Missoula, and I have trees that I tap in Lolo. So, I’m kind of spread far apart," Knudson added.
He mentioned that there are over 30,000 maple trees in the Missoula Valley, most of which were planted or naturalized over the last 100 years. And that availability created the opportunity for Montana Maple Works to be born.
"I was able to find privately owned trees and kind of build my business by just utilizing people's yard trees," Knudson said.
The uniqueness of maple tapping, he says, is a big reason why his business took off.
"It’s not something that’s done around here. Most people, although there is a contingency of northeasterners and upper midwesterners, most people around here have no clue, and have not been exposed to the art of sugaring," Knudson added.
That art caught the attention of Billings arborist and owner of S-6 Enterprises, Josh Smith. And maple tapping could soon be on its way to Billings.
"There’s a lot of great trees in Billings and a lot of people are particular with their trees and tree health. I think that giving back to them by having a good healthy tree that you’re maintaining and then also being able to get a byproduct out of that tree, besides just wood, would be great," said Smith.
Smith got the idea when he stumbled upon Knudson’s business online and "loved that he could potentially provide another service" to his existing customers. And he says Billings has plenty to offer on the Maple syrup front.
"There’s a lot of good maple trees that were planted back in the 20s and 30s and they just need to be maintained and if they’re maintained they’re going to produce. A lot of customers that have downtown areas where they have trees that they already pay to maintain but maybe they want more production out of it," added Smith.
That production provides a connection which is what makes Montana maple syrup production "truly special" according to Knudson.
"They’re connecting directly with the sugar maker. That’s what people want, that’s what people are moving towards, as far as knowing where their food is coming from and having that bio-regional connection to their food," said Knudson.