Farming Magazine - December, 2013

SUGARING

From Abandoned to Abundance

By Tamara Scully


The Streeters' nephew, Logan Eldridge, 12, and their son, Nolan, 5, selling products during the New Hampshire Maple Producers Open House Weekend.
Photos courtesy of Young Maple Ridge Sugarhouse.

Business is growing at Young Maple Ridge Sugarhouse in North Sandwich, N.H. In the 1990s, a teenaged Brad Streeter helped with sugaring while working at the Bemis Farm and his dream took root. Today, Brad, his wife, Ida, and their two young children have a new sugarhouse designed to handle the 2,000 taps they'll be working for the 2014 sugaring season. Streeter's dream of becoming another link in the chain of maple sugaring tradition has become a reality.



Brad Streeter and his son, Nolan, tap a maple tree, using a drill to make a hole before hammering in the spile.

"Young Maple Ridge Sugarhouse proudly continues this tradition of producing and distributing the finest pure New Hampshire maple syrup," the Streeters state on their website (http://www.youngmapleridgesugarhouse.com). "Maple syrup is more than just a business for us, it is a way of life."

Turning his dream into a reality required a bit of luck, hard work and the generosity of others.

Growth spurts

While doing carpentry work in 2000, Brad happened to mention his latent sugaring dreams to Karl Behr. By chance, Behr's family had an old sugarhouse, abandoned for more than a decade, on their Tamworth property. He offered its use to Brad. That simple kindness ultimately launched the Streeters' business.

"That first season, Brad used all the sugaring equipment the Behrs had. The first year, he had 300 taps, all on the Behr farm property, and made 92 gallons [of syrup]," Ida said. "The sugarhouse hadn't been used by the Behr family for 15 years."

Brought back into production, both the trees and the taps proved profitable.

"The first crop allowed us enough money to buy our own evaporator pans," Ida said. "We used the Behr farm sugarhouse, property and evaporator for four seasons."

Even after making enough money to build their own sugarhouse on property not too far from their home, the couple continued to use the Behrs' trees. They added another 250 taps from their own property and made 130 gallons of syrup in 2004, the first year at their own sugarhouse.

By 2007, they had increased the number of taps to 770 and added a steam-away, which preheats the sap, concentrating it slightly before it enters the flue pan and increasing its evaporation rate. The next equipment change came in 2010, when the couple switched from traditional filtering methods to a filter press.

Quality, quantity and confections

Ida said the equipment updates were made in order to be able to meet the demand for their products while maintaining the high quality of their syrup. They still use a 2.5-by-8-foot evaporator, but with their newest and largest sugarhouse, built next to their house in 2011, they doubled the amount of taps and thus the quantity of sap they process.

This increase in capacity meant that the couple needed to make another equipment change: They added a reverse osmosis machine, once again increasing efficiency.

Equipment and location aren't the only changes they've made over the years.

"We began just making syrup and quickly realized there was both money to be made and customer demand for the other maple products," Ida explained. "We added granulated sugar, then maple candy, and recently added maple cream."

Their product line has also helped increase wholesale business. Aside from three restaurants that use their maple syrup, they wholesale to several retail stores, which carry an assortment of their maple products. They also sell directly from the sugarhouse, at a local farmers' market and online, in addition to participating in local craft and holiday fairs.

"This summer we started selling at the North Conway Farmers' Market. It has been a successful market for us, [with] both local and tourist business," Ida said. While the craft fairs and local events are profitable, they serve more as an advertising tool.



Brad Streeter loads the arch of the evaporator with wood.

Retail sales account for about 60 percent of the business. The farmers' market takes the lead in retail sales, with the sugarhouse following. The website brings in about 10 percent of their overall business.

While their equipment has advanced from makeshift, decades-old castoffs to more modern technology, they utilize old and new collection systems. The Streeters have 100 taps that deliver sap to buckets, 1,000 on vacuum tubing and about the same on gravity tubing. They expect to make 500 gallons of syrup for the 2014 season.



A sample of the products produced and sold by the Streeters at Young Maple Ridge Sugarhouse in North Sandwich, N.H.

"Each year, we have been able to add taps from our property and [from] our generous neighbors, who allow us to tap their trees in return for syrup," Ida said.

In the sugar bush, maintenance is primarily focused on thinning the canopy and repairing tubing. The Streeters are also on the lookout for the Asian long-horned beetle, due to its potential to cause damage. Ida added that to keep the trees healthy, they are careful not to over-tap them.

Cleanliness, from tap site to bottling and every step in between, is crucial for quality syrup. She said, "The most important step for us in ensuring quality syrup is boiling the sap when it is fresh. We never let sap sit around. It is boiled immediately after being gathered."

Community

The spirit of community giving continues to spur growth for the Streeters today. Each season, the couple's fathers contribute to the process. Brad's father, Bob Streeter, gathers sap and pitches in daily, while John Robinson, Ida's father, is typically found feeding the fire and giving "nickel tours" to visitors.



Brad's father, Bob Streeter, pours sap into the big holding tank in the woods while gathering sap.

The Streeters welcome hundreds of visitors to their sugarhouse during the annual New Hampshire Maple Producers Open House Weekend in March. Neighbors, family members and friends help watch the children, hand out samples, sell products or gather sap.

"This event has brought 500 people during the weekend to our little sugarhouse in the woods, so their help is instrumental to the success of what we do," Ida said.

Without the support and generosity of neighbors, family and friends, Brad's dreams might not have come true, at least not as quickly and with as much success as they did. And along the way, the couple has gathered sweet memories along with the sap.

The author is a freelance contributor based in New Jersey. Comment or question? Visit http://www.farmingforumsite.com and join in the discussions.