MAYVILLE-It's busy season for New York state's maple syrup producers, even when the weather doesn't give its full cooperation.
Maple Weekend, an annual statewide event, is in full swing, and local maple producers are showing the secrets of their trade.
This year's event took place on maple syrup farms across the state over the course of last weekend and this weekend. Sponsored by the New York State Maple Producers Association, Maple Weekend gives families an opportunity to visit local syrup producers to learn about its production.
According to its website, Maple Weekend began in Wyoming County during the mid-1990s. Then known as "Maple Sunday," its goal was to give the public a firsthand opportunity to see how maple products are produced, along with the chance to taste and purchase those products. Since then, the event has expanded to include farms within Chautauqua County.
John and Tara Gerber, operators of Clear Creek Farm in Mayville, have been producing maple syrup for the past three years. According to Tara, their involvement with Maple Weekend is a new experience for them.
"This is our first Maple Weekend," said Tara. "We started with buckets three years ago just for our family. We are (now) part of the Western New York Maple Producers Association, and we thought we could handle doing a Maple Weekend."
Beginning last weekend, Clear Creek offered its first open house which, according to Tara, went well.
"For being our first year, we had a nice steady stream of people, but it never got overwhelming," she said.
The syrup that is produced at Clear Creek is made through a process known as reverse osmosis, in which water is removed from the tree sap before it is boiled down to make syrup. The water removal from the sap allows for the reduction of energy consumption and the exposure of the syrup to high temperatures.
At last week's open house, the Gerbers were able to demonstrate the process by which they create their syrup, as well as offer buggy rides in a horse-drawn carriage. Although temperatures were too cold to produce on Saturday, they were still able to provide an educational tour of their syrup-producing equipment, and give samples from last week's syrup run.
According to John, his decision to start out as a small-time maple syrup producer was inspired by childhood experiences.
"I think everybody that does this, somewhere down the line, either participated in their youth, or they grew up with it," he said. "You were either a neighborhood kid and you went over and helped your grandpa, or something like that, or you grew up with it-and I grew up with it."
Although Clear Creek only has on its property approximately 1,000 maple trees, the purchase and implementation of its reverse osmosis unit has made syrup production more efficient, to the point where it can begin marketing and selling syrup as a product. John said that Maple Weekend is a great opportunity for Clear Creek to let the public know about its new business.
"Maple Weekend is educational," he said. "You have to like to have an open house, you have to be prepared to accept people on your property and you have to be somewhat of an educator. And I think we have a reasonably good operation to share. I'm a small producer, but I have all the equipment that the big producers do-they just have it in a bigger way."
He added: "There's the formal aspect of the science and promotion of maple syrup that happens through the producers, and that I want to support. So, that's why I'm doing it."
Clear Creek Farm is dedicated to sustainable farming with the highest priority of bringing together conservation and agriculture. In additional to producing maple syrup, the farm also deals in sheep production. It's sheep farm is modeled after Cornell's "Star Program," with the goal of producing 500 market lambs every three years.
For more information about Maple Weekend, go to www.mapleweekend.com. The website also contains a listing of the more than 110 participating maple producers throughout the state, which are searchable by county. Today's participating locations will be hosting their open houses from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.