KENNEDY - Steward's Dairy and Maple Syrup welcomed nearly 100 people from across New York state and other states on Tuesday as part of the 2014 New York State Maple Tour.
Visitors traveled via coach to Steward's Dairy, 4369 Waterboro Hill Road, where they enjoyed either a morning or afternoon tour of the maple syrup operation and a demonstration of boiling sap.
Steward's Dairy is owned by father and son, Donald and Paul Steward, who have operated a maple enterprise for the last seven years with the help of Paul's brother, Ken, who also runs the dairy farm.
Nearly 100 visitors participating in the annual New York State Maple Tour stopped by Steward’s dairy farm, in Kennedy during a morning and afternoon tour July 15 to see the family’s maple operation and learn about maple syrup production. Above, owner Paul Steward stokes the intense fire of the evaporator.
Photo by Deb Everts
Below, from left, are: Steward family members: Paul’s daughter, Megan; his father, Donald; his brother, Ken; Paul; and his son, Jacob.
Photo by Deb Everts
According to Paul Steward, they started their maple syrup business in 2007, when Ken answered an ad from someone who was interested in buying sap. At the time, they had a number of hedge-row trees that wouldn't be productive log trees, so they hung about 100 buckets on them and gathered sap - then sold it. About a week later, his brother saw another ad for sap buckets and he bought 350 more buckets for $1 each.
"Since we were tapping maple trees, my dad thought we should get our own evaporator instead of selling sap," he said.
"So dad purchased a used 3-foot-by-8-foot wood-fired evaporator, in 2009, and we built the shed. Soon those 350 buckets turned into 550 or so buckets, and we added 200 gravity lines."
Steward commented that processing maple syrup is a tremendous amount of hard work and involves long hours. It takes more than 40 gallons of maple tree sap to produce 1 gallon of pure maple syrup. He said it was a 15-20-hour boiling job and they were getting about 60 gallons of sap in an hour, so they decided to upgrade to make the boiling go a little faster.
"In 2012, we invested in a new 3-foot-by-10-foot evaporator that boils approximately 250 gallons of sap in an hour," he said. "Although it's only 2 feet longer, it has deeper flues, so there's more boiling surface area. Plus, the arch has air under the fire and over the fire, which creates a more intense heat and an incredible rolling boil."
"The other addition to the system is a device called a 'steamaway' that sits on top of the flue pan and uses steam coming off the pan to super-heat the sap in a vat above it," he explained. "Air is forced through the sap in an air-bubbling system, which forces air throughout the sap and evaporates a tremendous amount of it - even before it reaches the flue pan."
Two years ago, they made the process even more efficient when they added 425 taps on a vacuum system in the main woods behind the sugarhouse. He said the system applies negative pressure to the trees and actually pushes the sap out so it flows a bit better. It worked so well that, last year, they decided to put in an additional 700 taps, so they now have about 1,150 taps on vacuum.
"The vacuum system was a good thing because with this year's winter being so cold, the sap running on gravity into the buckets didn't contribute a lot, but the vacuum system made it so we had a pretty good year. In fact, we produced 500 gallons of syrup last year - the most syrup we've made," he said.
By next year, Steward hopes to have around 2,500 taps. He plans to expand the sugarhouse next year to make room for a "reverse osmosis" system, which will pump some of the water out of the sap before it goes into the evaporator and will shorten the boiling time.
Steward and his family live in Randolph where he is a science teacher at the high school. His wife, Michele, does most of the bottling of the syrup. Their children, Megan and Jacob help gather sap. Jacob also helps a lot with putting up the new tubing systems. They sell about 100 gallons of bottled syrup from the farm, their home, and at work. The rest is sold by bulk.
In the future, Steward plans to market his syrup and put up a website. Eventually, he'll make cream and sugar, but he said it takes a lot of patience and there's a technique to doing it. If someone is making a lot, it also requires some specialized equipment, which is pretty expensive.
Paul and his brother, Ken, grew up on the farm which their father, Donald, bought in 1963. The farm has expanded from 100 acres and a small herd of dairy cattle to about 800 acres with 250 dairy cows. Paul and his son, Jacob, help out on the farm during the summer and harvesting season.
Steward said one of the benefits of belonging to the Chautauqua County Maple Producers Association is having his maple syrup business and contact information listed on the New York State Maple Producers website at nysmaple.com. Another benefit is it supports the education of maple syrup production, as well as the benefits and the marketing of it.
Anyone interested in a tour of Steward's maple operation during maple sugar season, purchasing syrup, may call 358-3445.
The three-day event, hosted this year by the Chautauqua County Maple Producers Association and Cornell Cooperative Extension, was based at Chautauqua Suites Meeting and Expo Center in Mayville. Participants toured local sugarhouses and sugarbush locations, which provided visiting maple producers with many ideas for their own businesses.
Edward and Ramona Parker, of Granby, Massachusetts, have come to New York state quite a few times for the maple tours, which they really enjoy. Ed runs a small sugarhouse operation in Granby, and he is a member of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association. This is his 30th year of making maple syrup and maple products.
For more information on the annual New York State Maple Tour, as well as the New York State Maple Producers Association, visit online at nysmaple.com and cornellmaple.com.