Hats Off to PA Wilds Maple Syrup Producers
Have you ever considered the intensity of producing maple syrup firsthand? Did you know it is a common, signature product of the Pennsylvania Wilds?
Speaking with producers in Tioga County, I learned quickly that the value-added product is a popular one in Pennsylvania – and many people are unaware that families produce it here.
It’s not marketed quite like it is in places like Canada, or states like Vermont … but it is here, plentifully. In fact, I was informed that while syrup may sell for up to $10 a gallon less in Pennsylvania than in Vermont, the excess in Pennsylvania is often sold to retailers in Vermont, with the final buyer not being the wiser.
Like many, I didn’t know much about regional maple syrup production in the Pennsylvania Wilds… but I found a way to learn (and will continue to find ways to learn about this industry in Pennsylvania). The Potter-Tioga Maple Producers Association held its 13th annual Maple Weekend last year, featuring 16 maple farms. Those who participated were able to plot out their own journey and travel the rural roads of the Pennsylvania Wilds right to the producers’ properties, where they then learned about the process to make sweet syrup.
I was set to go in 2017, but freezing rain kept me that weekend. I was determined and the following week I set up a solo journey to visit three of the participating producers. Visiting Miller’s Purely Maple in Wellsboro as well as Asaph Maple Farms and Triple D Maple in Middlebury Center, I was able to picture the variety of producers out there – in terms of scale and goods. From over 3,000 gallons of syrup produced annually by Douglas Clark and family at Asaph to the growing production at Triple D, where Jared Davis balances his time between being a syrup producer and a full-time educator, to the dependable snacks offered at the PA Grand Canyon during certain months by Dale Miller, each producer has found a way to make the good they love for a living. They each sell their products online and folks can stop by the homesteads to purchase some delectable goods in person.
As I toured the facilities, and learned about each of the companies’ operations, it became clear that what some might call a “hobby” is actually quite the undertaking – and it’s done during some of the coldest months of the year. It requires countless hours of forethought, as each producer has to evaluate the number of trees they can tap, the amount of sap they will each produce and how much syrup that sap will in turn make, how best to get the sap to the sugarhouse, etc. And while they’re waiting for Mother Nature to do her thing, in terms of the primary necessities for syrup production (freezing, thawing and vacuum), the producers are investing hard: they’re purchasing equipment to tap the trees and get the sap to the sugarhouse, maintaining their boiling equipment, purchasing syrup containers for the end product, marketing their products, and more.
Unlike what many realize, sap is turned to syrup between the months of February and April. When winter comes and freezing temperatures settle in, sugars produced in the leaves of the trees during photosynthesis get pulled deep within the trees. As the ground slowly warms and spring is on the horizon, pressure builds within the trees and causes sap to rise and push out of wounds or tap holes. Maple syrup producers have found ways to ease the process of collecting the sticky substance – electricity has helped quite a bit, as they can now install tubing right to the tap of the tree and increase the vacuum pull from the trunk.
All of this hard work provides such a great benefit to the community at large. We all reap the benefits of the sweet byproduct. So, next time you’re setting down for a hearty breakfast, complete with pancakes or waffles – thank your local syrup producer! And check the bottle to see if it was made in the PA Wilds!
Maple Weekend began in 2005, and 17 farms from across Potter and Tioga Counties participated in the 2018 event March 17 and 18. During the event, farms offer tours, demonstrations and the finest in pure maple products, and visitors learn about the interesting story of each farm and the unique processes developed by individual producers.
Learn more by visiting the Potter-Tioga Maple Producers Association website at www.pamaple.com.