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Editorial: How sweet it is

Steve Holt of Steve's Sugar Shack in Westhampton fills up containers with maple syrup on Saturday, March 2, 2013. 

SARAH CROSBY

Steve Holt of Steve's Sugar Shack in Westhampton fills up containers with maple syrup on Saturday, March 2, 2013. SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

With the growing popularity of farmers markets and locally grown produce in recent years, it seems the term “buy local” is on everyone’s lips these days. For the state’s 350-some maple producers, though, the concept is old hat.

After all, a good many of them were selling syrup made from the sugar maples on their land to neighbors, friends and other community members long before the “buy-local” term was coined.

Indeed, dairy farmers have been supplementing their incomes by tapping their maple trees since the 17th century.

While many businesses, here and elsewhere, are still feeling the pinch of the economic downturn, the maple sugar business seems to be thriving.

According to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, the state’s sugarers produce about 50,000 gallons of syrup each year — worth more than $2 million — and most of it is sold within the state, so that farmer and the consumer share the wealth.

Now, with the proliferation of sugar shack restaurants throughout the Northeast, maple sugar producers are seeing even more profits from their liquid gold.

During the sugaring season, which tends to run from mid-February until late March or early April, the “shacks” — really down-home, family-style restaurants — including many throughout our region, draw crowds of local folks and out-of-towners. Crowds gather to sit down for pancakes or French toast topped with syrup often produced from the maple trees just outside the door.

The income from these seasonal eateries now equals or surpasses what sugarers make in maple syrup sales, doubling their profits.

Sugar shacks’ benefits extend beyond the breakfast table.

The eateries have become community gathering places where families, friends and townspeople share news and views while passing the maple syrup.

The shacks also bringing visitors during a time of the year that attracts fewer tourists, a boon for other businesses — farms, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, inns and retailers.

By capitalizing on their annual product, maple sugarers are helping all of us weather these continuing tight fiscal times. As Mary Poppins would say, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

Harvard has explaining to do

Officials at Harvard University are threading the exceedingly small eye of a needle in their explanations about why administrators secretly prowled the email accounts of 16 deans involved in an investigation into academic fraud by students.

The Boston Globe reported that the school searched the emails last fall in an attempt to find the source of leaks to the media about a case of cheating at the Cambridge school.

A school dean, in an email to the Associated Press, said Harvard felt leaks compromised the work of an entity called the Administrative Board, which looks into cases of academic dishonesty. He said that if the school felt the board’s work was “compromised” by leaks, the school “would take all necessary and appropriate actions under our procedures to safeguard the integrity of that process, which is designed to protect the rights of our students to privacy and due process.”

Let’s see then. To uphold one ideal (student privacy), the school violated another (faculty privacy). That may be a case of competing rights and someone had to lose. Here, the customers (students) were apparently judged to be the ones who are always right, even if they may have engaged in cheating.

Last month, Harvard disclosed that it had sanctioned about 60 students for cheating on the final exam of a class about the U.S. Congress. As punishment, the students were forced to withdraw for an unspecified time.

The deans were not told their email would be searched. We believe that given the long arm of data retrieval these days, they could have been alerted without compromising the investigation into leaks. Sharon Howell, Harvard’s senior resident dean, has said the school owes the deans an apology. “They don’t seem to think they’ve done anything wrong,” she told the Globe, speaking of school authorities. That apology did finally come last week.

Play hardball and you will get bruised. Given Harvard’s reputation and intensity, campus politics can be fractious.

Unless the school finds a way to make amends with its faculty, the school climate could remain pretty frosty well into the spring.

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