The Ranger - May 2

department of iron range resources and rehabilitation

The Ranger 

May 2, 2019

Business Energy Retrofit program strengthens region’s agricultural economy

Maple Syrup

Lutsen-based Sawtooth Mountain Maple Syrup Company utilized a Business Energy Retrofit (BER) grant to help pay for equipment modernization, including a new evaporator, sugar house lighting, and a reverse osmosis room heating system.

The enhancements improved maple syrup processing time by 50%, cut fuel consumption in half, reduced fuel emissions, and lessened the environmental impact of daily operations.

Sawtooth is family-owned with 25,000 maple tree taps across 320 acres. Owner Kirstin van den Berg, her husband Greg Nichols and her brother Chris Cordes are first-generation syrup makers who began collecting sap with milk jugs as children growing up in Chisago County, Minnesota. They bought their Lutsen sugar bush acreage in 1995, added structures and sap pipeline infrastructure to the property in 1996, and produced their first syrup crop in 1997. Their maple trees are part of a naturally-occurring grove that is one-mile-wide and three miles inland of Lake Superior. It is the most northern location in the United States where maple syrup can be made. Sawtooth’s maple syrup production is award winning and the largest USDA certified organic operation in the Midwest.

Sawtooth has four full-time employees (including the owners) and seven part-time seasonal employees. Together they begin tapping trees each January and acquire 250,000 to 320,000 gallons of sap that is boiled down with the new evaporator to make 6,500 to 8,000 gallons of maple syrup.

Sawtooth Mountain Maple Syrup Company Infographic

“We could not have made these equipment improvements without the BER grant,” said van den Berg. “It freed up our financial resources to work towards our goal of expanding our agricultural operations to 29,000 taps within the next three years.”

Sawtooth’s syrup is sold in bulk to Wild Country Maple Products who packages it and distributes it wholesale and retail. It retails in most Minnesota co-ops and stores. Sawtooth also sells its syrup to several breweries across the state for use in ale production including Castle Danger of Two Harbors and Fulton of Minneapolis.

Since BER’s inception in 2013, 285 grants have been awarded to help small businesses with energy efficiency upgrades that can result in reduced utility bills, operational efficiencies, improved building aesthetics and increased building life. The program is funded by Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation and administered through a partnership with Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA). To learn more email Vince Meyer at AEOA or call him at 218-735-6828.

Note: Sawtooth also received a Minnesota Department of Agriculture AGRI Value-Added Grant, which helps Minnesota processors add value to their agricultural products by helping underwrite equipment purchases and physical improvements.

“Welcome to Finland” videos showcase unique rural community 

Young girls by campfire

Finland is an unincorporated village of 200 people along Minnesota’s North Shore. Small, very rural and off-the-beaten-path, Finland is six miles inland from Lake Superior along Highway 1. It is part of the North Shore and Boundary Waters tourism industry.

A new website and series of videos is being launched to showcase living, working and playing in Finland. The digital campaign is spearheaded by the nonprofit community organization Friends of Finland, and the first video released features a Finland family tapping sap and harvesting maple syrup. View video.

“The videos are about people who are very proud of their community and treasure the life and splendor of the north woods,” said Honor Schauland, Friends of Finland director. “Our goal is to give people a virtual and personal glimpse of Finland’s quality of life and beauty of the land.”

Some Finland residents choose to live off the grid through renewable solar energy. Finland was recently named the 2018 Solar Champion by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and Clean Energy Resource Teams for having the most installed solar photo-voltaic (PV) per person in the continental United States.

Tourists can enjoy a stop at the 100-year-old Finland Cooperative which is Minnesota’s oldest continuously operating co-op. Guests may shop for groceries, organic food, hardware, housewares and camping/fishing/hunting supplies. The Co-op’s unofficial slogan is “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” Finland also offers a community center with a farmer’s market and recreational programs, four unique restaurants, and two annual festivals: St. Urho’s Day in March and Harvest Booya and Car Show in September.

Also in Finland is Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, the first of its kind in the United States to be accredited as a K-12 school. It is recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in environmental education, and more than 15,000 children, teachers and parent chaperones visit the campus each school year.

“Most tourists to our region are from areas that don’t have access to the beauty and ruggedness of the wilderness, and tourists often become future residents of places they visit and connect to,” said Schauland. “Through these videos we can show them our adventurous and serene way of life. As more people are able to work by telecommuting, Finland becomes a viable option for those looking to relocate to northeastern Minnesota.”

Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported this project with a Culture and Tourism grant through taxes paid by Minnesota’s mining industry. For more information email Danae Beaudette or call her at 218-735-3022.

“Travel Matters” in northeastern Minnesota

Travel Matters Graphic

May 5-11 is National Travel & Tourism Week which celebrates tourism’s value to our economy, businesses and personal well-being. “Travel Matters” is this year’s theme honoring the 36th anniversary of the 1983 congressional resolution that established the week into law.

Tourism is a $15.3 billion industry in Minnesota and is a key sector of the state's economy. The leisure and hospitality industry employs more than 270,000 workers, representing 11% of Minnesota's private sector employment. Leisure and hospitality also generates 18% of the state's sales tax revenues. Minnesota welcomes more than 73 million domestic and international travelers annually. View a Minnesota tourism economic impact video.

Four of our region’s tourism associations explained why “Travel Matters” in northeastern Minnesota.   

Visit Grand Rapids Logo

Visit Grand Rapids

“Travel matters because when people visit the Grand Rapids area, they bring new money to the community through overnight lodging, dining, shopping, admission at attractions, events and performances, and purchasing gas and bait. The indirect or halo effect of why travel matters to the Grand Rapids area is because travelers become second home owners, local retirees, business owners and new residents. Travel matters in Grand Rapids, and tourism is in our nature.” - Megan Christianson, Executive Director of Visit Grand Rapids


Two Harbors Chamber of Commerce Logo

Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce

“Taconite, timber and tourism is the heart of Lake County’s economic footprint. The beauty of Lake County provides us with a built-in tourism industry. With robust tourism comes jobs, increased tax revenues, and business growth - all key components to the vitality of the local economy.” - Janelle Jones, President of Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce 


Iron Range Tourism Bureau Logo

Iron Range Tourism Bureau

"Travel matters because when people visit the Mesabi Iron Range it gives us an opportunity to share our history and our way of life, and showcase what makes our region special. Highlighting what's great about the Mesabi Range not only attracts tourists but it opens the door to investment, makes it easier to recruit workers, and creates invaluable connections." - Beth Pierce, Director of Iron Range Tourism Bureau  


Visit Cook County Logo

Visit Cook County

“Tourism is a major economic driver in northeastern Minnesota. The rich cultural history, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Lake Superior, the Sawtooth Mountain Range, and two National Scenic Byways draw visitors from around the world.” - Linda Jurek, Executive Director of Visit Cook County   

Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation and taxes paid by Minnesota’s mining industry proudly support the travel and tourism industry in northeastern Minnesota.

On the Move

Listening Session at Valentini's Supper Club in Chisholm


Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Deputy Commissioner Jason Metsa and agency staff were "on the move" in Chisholm on Tuesday, April 23, the third in a series of community visits and listening sessions. 

The Chisholm visit included tours of business and community development projects, followed by a listening session at Valentini's Supper Club. (Pictured) 

Thank you to the community of Chisholm for the warm hospitality! 

Up Next - Aitkin and Grand Rapids 

The agency's next listening sessions are scheduled as follows: 

  • Aitkin – Friday, May 3, The Beanery Café & Roastery, 221 Minnesota Ave. North, 1:30 p.m.
  • Grand Rapids – Tuesday, May 14, Timberlake Lodge, 144 SE 17th Street, 3 p.m.

Everyone is welcome! 

The Ranger is a publication of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. Our mission is to promote and invest in business, community and workforce development for the betterment of northeastern Minnesota.