January 26, 2022

It runs in the family

Maple syrup production a way of life on the Boice farm in Marathon

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Steve Boice and his daughter Kaitlyn, 16, of Cooper Hill Maple Farm test the density of a batch of maple syrup recently in their Marathon sugar shack.

Kaitlyn Boice has the tiara and sash for her New York state maple queen title — and will use these at festivals to talk about the maple syrup industry.

But the 16-year-old also has the boots and gloves to help tap 60 acres of maple woods at her family’s Cooper Hill Maple Farm in Marathon.

“I help, go out and tap the trees, check for leaks and walk the lines to make sure squirrels haven’t chewed the line,” she said this month.

Boice works with her father, Steve, and mother Christa, and siblings Caleb and Silas on their 110-acre farm, to make maple syrup every year. Boice got the New York state queen title Jan. 5 at the New York Maple Producers Winter Conference.

“I am allowed to go to different festivals … promoting the maple industry and answering people’s questions,” she said at her sap house. The family is hosting open houses 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 23 and 24 and and 30 and 31 at the 291 Cooper Hill Road farm. Pancakes will be served and kids can sled on the hill.

Boice will make a maple queen appearance 11 a.m. March 2 at Tibbit’s Maple, 8874 Tibbitts Road, New Hartford, for a tree-tapping ceremony. She will also be in the June Dairy Parade in Cortland and at the Hall of Fame Induction in May at the Maple Museum in Croghan. New York is home to the largest resource of tappable maple trees in the United States, according to the New York State Maple Association. It has more than 2,000 sugar makers.

Central New York’s climate is perfect for making syrup, because of its hills and valleys and lake and river systems, said Don Weed of Marathon, Central New York delegate to the New York State Maple Association.

“You need slope to make the sap run,” he said. “Other areas don’t get it. This area is the best in the world.”

“Vermont has the best advertising. When you think of maple syrup, you think of Vermont,” he said.

But New York is superior.

Removing the water

In a modern maple syrup production, like the Boice’s, maple trees are tapped in the early spring by drilling a hole the size of an AAA battery and pushing a spout into the hole.

Tubing is attached that brings maple sap into the sugar house or holding tank. It takes two to four trees four to five weeks to produce the 40 to 55 gallons of sap needed to make a gallon of syrup.

When the sap runs, it is immediately concentrated and boiled into maple syrup in the sugar house.

“All we’re doing is removing the water,” said Steve Boice, a NYSEG line mechanic who also is president of the Chenango Area Maple Producers. His Cooper Hill Maple farm went commercial in 2012 and is a 2,000 tap operation.

“This is my hobby,” said Boice, 42. “I have made maple syrup my whole life. My grandfather showed me how to do it.”

The season can go anywhere from January to April. On a post in the Boice sap house was a record of starting dates and ending dates of past years.

“This year it started on the fifth (of February). It’s hard to know. You have to be ready,” Steve Boice said.

‘A lot of hard work’

Kaitlyn, an 11th-grader at Marathon High School is also a member of Future Farmers of America, which has an active club in the school.

“There’s a lot of hard work that goes into creating maple syrup,” Kaitlyn said.

The Boices spend five hours a night making syrup.

“That’s pretty good. We’re highly technical here,” Steve Boice said. “With the size of evaporator that we use and the number of taps, five hours is pretty good.”

Sap flows into the sugar house and goes through a series of tanks and lines, where water is pulled out of the sap by evaporation. When it reaches the right temperature and the appropriate density, it is stored in drums, ready to be bottled.

“I love maple syrup,” Kaitlyn said. “It’s really good on ice cream and really good on snow. Sometimes when we get a good batch, we put it on clean snow. It will harden into like a taffy.”

Coffee, corn, glycemic index

Maple syrup is healthy, Weed said. “Maple sugar is not the same as sugar in the grocery store. It does not raise the glycemic index. You don’t get a high. It’s natural sugar,” he said.

Pure maple syrup has a low glycemic index, a rate that measures how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels, according to Organic Authority.

Foods with a glycemic index of 55 or below are considered to be low glycemic foods. Maple syrup has a glycemic index of 54; honey rates a 58 table sugar a 65, the authority reports.

“My first wife was a diabetic. She was taking medicine for it,” Weed said. “After they got it under control, the doctor said, you used to do a lot of baking. You can do it again if you use maple syrup.”

Weed says it’s good in coffee and adds flavor to corn. Some health food stores sell maple sap as a drink.

Big shacks and small

Weed said his son, Dan’s operation has two plants: one in New Hope and another in Newfield.

Don Weed works at it, living in Marathon and commuting. He’s been making maple syrup about 28 years.

“These sugar houses are not your typical houses,” he said.

The New Hope facility is modern, in an insulated pole barn. Its evaporator looks like a freight train, 18 feet long, 5 feet wide and 9 feet high, Weed said.

“We’ll make 4,000 to 5,000 gallons of sap evaporate in an hour,” he said, tapping about 40,000 trees between the two sites. “We package syrup. We needed something more like a milk plant.”

The sap house can be hosed down for cleaning.

All the equipment is enclosed.

“The maple industry has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. When we opened in New Hope, it was the first facility that was washable inside,” Weed said.

“The Boices are a really good people. They make a good syrup. The sap house he has is very nice. A modern, traditional operation,” he said. “It’s encouraging to me to see people like that doing a good job. There’s a lot of people doing syrup in a sugar shack. It’s a shack!”

A maple community

Steve Boice said 30 maple farms exist in the Marathon area alone.

“A lot of kids at school come from maple producer families,” Kaitlyn added.

Christa Boice said a handful will open their farms to the public on the special maple weekends the last two weeks in March. See mapleweekend.com to see who is participating, she said.

The Boices sell their syrup to Ithaca Agway, Ithaca True Value, Hope Lake Lodge and Sunset Grill in Ithaca.

People can contact Cooper Hill Maple on Facebook to put in an order.

The Weeds sell their syrup to New York City markets.

Weed said the Ensign Farm sells maple syrup to Marathon, Whitney Point and Cortland markets.

“There’s a lot of small producers in this area. Most of them try to market as much as they can locally,” Weed said.

As a large producer, the Weeds do not want to push out the local syrup makers, so they ship to New York City.

Steve Boice said his grandfather bought the farm in the mid-30s and the property was passed on, eventually, to him.

“We used to have cows and a dairy. It’s too much work. Everyone’s working outside (the farm),” he said. “Something has to pay for taxes. We decided to use our resources. We sold the cows and tapped the trees.”