Eric Weninger and Bree Breckel of Embark Maple Energy are building a life doing what they love, one drop of maple sap at a time. From the day they met, the couple shared a dream of working on the land, growing their own food, and playing outside. Back in 2011, when they purchased 5,000 maple trees in the woods of Southwest Wisconsin, that dream became reality.
“I was always passionate about doing something that was good,” Eric said. “And being in the woods has always been that place of good energy.”
They called themselves B&E’s Trees, because, Eric joked, “it was better than some of the other names, like Sappy Pappy’s Early Morning Runs!”
That inaugural season harvesting maple sap turned out to be a notably terrible maple season. “But, it was a true taste of farming,” Eric laughed.
Despite the iffy start, Bree and Eric have been harvesting maple syrup for, now, more than a decade. Their syrup, aged in Bourbon barrels for two years, goes “beyond the breakfast table” and is noted for its culinary and cocktail uses.
And, in 2020, B&E’s Trees had a big growth spurt.
Over the years, the couple fielded a few too many calls about honey bees and/ or Christmas trees. It was a common enough ambiguity that they decided to rename and rebrand. “We also wanted to do some value adding and unique things with our maple syrup,” Eric said.
From their 184-acre woods, Embark Maple Energy was born.
As a natural form of fuel, and an alternative to commercial, synthetic-tasting energy gels, maple syrup has been finding its way into the endurance sport scene for a while now. Eric’s lifelong love of endurance athletics and multi-sport adventures, along with his natural curiosity, soon had him digging into the research around maple syrup.
He found it offered long-lasting, more-sustained energy than other quick-nutrition options, plus the flavor is amazing! Before long, Eric and Bree dreamed up, and then created, Embark Adventure Packs — pouched maple syrup combined with a few simple, organic ingredients to provide clean, on-the-go fuel.
Maple syrup is not only a natural energy source, but it’s also a versatile one to boot. “You can take it straight, mix it in water as a hydration aid, use it in camp cooking and even camp cocktails!” Eric said.
Embark Maple Energy currently offers three flavors:
Traditional Sea Salt: great for quick energy, has no caffeine, and is excellent for camp cooking.
Salted Elderberry: tastes great mixed in water as a hydration boost.
Salted Coffee: Eric’s personal favorite and great for taking straight as a fast acting energy bump.
The flavors were developed with the help of a panel of professional chefs, foodies and brewers; a parallel panel of endurance athletes tested the performance.
“We are certainly not the first people to recognize this as an energy source,” Eric said. “It’s really as old as time. We’re just building off what these cultures have developed over thousands of years.”
Embark is lucky to source their elderberries from Bree’s dad, who’s been growing them for decades on his own Wisconsin farm. “The elderberry market is very small and our goal is to develop a growers network parallel to the Embark product, allowing Midwest growers of elderberries an additional outlet to sell to.”
Now for a little biology lesson.
In the spring, maple trees have a reserve of energy in the form of slightly sweet sap stored in their roots. As the temperatures rise throughout the day, the sap is transferred up to the tips of the branches where new buds are developing. The buds use the energy from the sap to form leaves, before the tree can photosynthesize.
In order to protect those leaflets when it freezes again at night, the sap goes back to the root of the tree. Maple farmers like Eric and Bree capture the sap as it goes on this journey from the roots to the branches. And they’re doing it in a way that maintains a healthy ecosystem on their farm.
Regeneration is ongoing and the farm is home to tiny saplings and 250-year old maples alike. “We make sure the trees are healthy by not taking too much sap at one time; having invasive species plans; erosion controls; nutrient management plans — the whole farm is organic, not just the woods.”
“We don’t spray any chemicals on our farm, it’s just us out there pulling weeds by hand!” Eric laughed. The couple has also employed goats with managed grazing techniques.
Being a certified organic farm means frequent inspections and more paperwork. But the difference really comes down to the mindset and intentionality Eric and Bree bring to everything they do.
“We have a lot of native species on our land, and if we were to spray, they’d be eradicated as well. In the last five to 10 years, we’ve had a few 500 and 1,000 year floods come through. We’ve watched some of those native species hold our hillsides together. We’re paying more attention to what is out there, and facilitating nature being nature.”
As a small family business, there isn’t anything either Eric or Bree don’t do. However, they do have their individual skills and strengths.
Eric works more closely with marketing, events and production. Bree oversees general operations and business management. She also runs the sugarhouse, aka "the big machine."
“This task requires as much scientific know-how as intuition, and she just rocks it in her coveralls!” Eric said. “The best part of working with your spouse is that we love and like each other so much that we can be very open and honest regarding how we’re feeling. Sometimes it feels like everything that can go wrong is going wrong, except worse than imagined. And, the other person knows just how to make you feel like things will be okay. I’m really talking about Bree here, but I try to do the same for her!”
Through Embark Maple, Eric and Bree are bringing that good energy they value so much — both literally and figuratively — to their customers. “Being able to be a source of good energy to get people outdoors and take on that challenge, that’s the most fulfilling part,” Eric said.
“I was not a good engineer,” Eric laughed. “I enjoyed the stimulation and analyzing systems, but that was not my place. To share that same energy and rejuvenation that we find in our maple woods, it just feels so good. This is what I was meant to do. This is it.”
The maple season can last a couple weeks to a couple of months, and Eric and Bree’s days are more or less dictated by the weather. “It’s hard to say, you only have a five day forecast! We just work with that interaction.”
“There isn’t anyone that can tell us ‘use this’ or ‘do this and it’s going to work’ or ‘here’s the recipe’. It’s just not out there!”
“We’re pushing the boundaries, but just like a big adventure, you don’t always know what’s going to happen. It’s always a journey to the unknown. You plan for it, work through the challenges, and adapt as needed.”