Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Maple makers: Good syrup but feeling the loss of busiest sales

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

They lost their big promotional weekends due to the coronavirus shutdown, but maple syrup producers still tapped trees for sap and boiled it into syrup.

“It’s short of a full crop but all excellent syrup, good quality and flavor, so I’m not going to complain,” said Randy Galusha of Toad Hill Maple Farm in Thurman.

No breakfast at Rathbun’s in Granville — The syrup maker serves weekend breakfast year-round but it’s not open now due to the coronavirus pandemic. Chronicle file photo/Mark Frost

“The biggest impact so far was the cancellation of Thurman Maple Days. We don’t have any customers coming to the farm.

“We could have stayed open as an agrifarm business, but we made a decision, in the best interest of everyone, we would close the store.”

Matt Rathbun of Rathbun’s Maple Sugar House in Whitehall said a week ago, “The sugaring season has been average, nothing spectacular. We’re almost to the end of it, without the freezing nights and warm during the day that we need. The syrup has been very good quality.”

“On the other hand,” Mr. Rathbun says, “the sugar house and restaurant, where I make all my money to pay my bills, is closed. I just had to tap the credit line to pay my bills.”

David Campbell of Mapleland Farms in Salem said, “Definitely the spring has been odd. It was the earliest ever, but it’s wrapping up soon and we usually go through about the 15th of April. The last couple of years we’ve done about 7,000 gallons each.” This year he said he expects to do “maybe 5,500.”

Mapleland wholesales to gift shops and supermarkets, and “a lot of gallon jugs to restaurants that do breakfast, locally as well as through a distributor to New York City, with one restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina. They’re all closed.”

Syrup ‘can keep for years’

Mr. Campbell said they do well with a home grocery delivery service in New York City, whose volume is up some.

“Our wholesale is down maybe 20 percent. Sales from retail, “100 percent down.”

But, he said, “We store the syrup in 40 gallon steel drums. It can keep for years, if we need.”

Mr. Rathbun said, “We usually sell a lot of syrup just off the shelf, retail. A lot will have to go out wholesale. Maybe people will want to come out when this is over. My waitresses are missing out on their tips they’d be making now.”

He worried, “If this goes on much longer, will anyone even have any money to buy later? Nobody knows.”

He said they typically produce “a few thousand” gallons of syrup a year, with a payroll of eight, mostly family members.

Mr. Campbell at Mapleland says their small crew of mostly family still has “plenty of work,” expanding sap lines, clearing woods.

Maple Weekend in summer or fall?

Rathbun’s moved some of its products — syrup, pancake mixes, maple cream and maple candies, to nearby Schoony’s Country Market in Granville. “They had be open anyways, so they’re helping us out.”

Toad Hill is focusing on online sales, “Adding a lot of our new products onto the website this week,” Mr. Galusha said.

“Fortunately for my wife and I this is not our sole source of income. I am hopeful that in few weeks or months, people will be anxious to get out and they will come see us.”

He said, “We have seen a lot of expansion over the last couple of years. I had intended to hire more people to work in the kitchen making our products, but that’s probably not going to happen this year, now.”

The producers said they are talking about rescheduling their Maple Weekend event to summer or fall, “but nothing is decided yet,” Mr. Galusha said.

Mr. Rathbun reminds, “We are open year-round, so I am hoping people come out when we do reopen. It would be nice if we can open for Mother’s Day, but no one really knows. I’m sure it won’t be Easter, maybe July. The unknown is what’s worrying people.”

What’s his message? “Stay home and wash your hands!”

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