Maple Syrup Producer
Tell us about your operation:
I’ve been making maple syrup for 12 seasons. I’m unique in this business because I don’t own any trees. I lease all of the trees and my sugar house is located in my back yard, and I live right in town. It’s different than what most people think of a maple syrup business. I got the idea to make maple syrup out of a magazine. I first tapped a few trees in my backyard and we grew from there. I was able to retire from my job as head of maintenance at a local school and do this full time. It’s been something that I worked hard to get going. We make about 1,000 gallons a year and I sell most of it as retail.
Where do you sell your products?
I sell at the Clarion County Farmers Market and at the Market Village in Tionesta. I sell to meat markets and grocery stores in Western Pennsylvania, but I also have a store that I sell to in Maryland. This past fall, I did a tasting event at Pittsburgh Public Market, and I’ve gained accounts from that. I have a Facebook page and advertise with a local online newspaper, where I promote maple recipes. One thing that I do differently is I sell all my products in glass. I wanted to do something to set my product apart. I went to glass bottles three years ago, and my sales went up 30 percent.
How has technology changed the maple syrup business?
I’ve moved to a high-efficiency vacuum system that allowed me to reduce my number of taps, but increase production. The efficiency starts in the woods, where the money is made. I used to employ people to empty buckets. But now we’ve gone with the vacuum system, and we had a 40 percent increase in sap production. Sap production needs a freeze thaw cycle, optimally about 42 degrees in the day and 16 at night. That resets the trees and gets them running for about three days. But with a vacuum system, we can induce sap for about seven consecutive days. We also have a reverse osmosis system, which takes away about 75 percent of the water and reduces our evaporation time. We have a wood-fired evaporator, which works on a gasification system.
How condensed is your season?
We like to see a six week season, but it’s been four to five weeks over the past few years. I start making syrup around the second week of March. I’m on the Allegheny plateau, at about 1,700 feet, and we stay cold up here. Folks in Erie and Crawford counties are making syrup two weeks before I do. I have boiled as late as April 21. With my new system, I can produce about 5,000 gallons in five hours.
Are you optimistic for the future of the agriculture industry?
I think there is an opportunity for agriculture that hasn’t been there in the past. We can take advantage of agritourism and people wanting to know where their food comes from. There’s also an opportunity for value-added income. We give tours of our maple house. I don’t charge anything, but people usually walk away with syrup. As soon as I start boiling, people start coming. That makes me very optimistic.
Lastly, why are you a Farm Bureau member?
The manager of one of the farmers markets where I sell is a Farm Bureau member and she encouraged me to become a member. She talked to me a lot about joining and convinced me that it would be beneficial. I’m a different kind of farmer, and one reason I wanted to join is to help promote the maple industry. I want to foster cooperation between different user groups. It’s my belief that farmers with a stand of timber could make money from someone who wants to make maple syrup. I’ve tried to get more maple producers involved in Farm Bureau, even if some of them might not consider themselves farmers.