Exploring One Family’s Devotion to the Northeast’s Favorite Treat
Tucked away in the northeastern corner of the country, a small family farm turned industry-leading maple producer stands devoted to the sweet maple syrup that carries the family name.
“Maple farming is different than other kinds of farming. It’s very traditional and family orientated, especially culturally up here,” farm operator Mike Parker said.
Today, the Parker Family Maple Farm is run by Parker and his wife, Laura. His father, Earl, oversees the production, giving his two cents from his experience operating the farm in the 50s and 60s.
But the farm’s creation dates back even further. In the late 1800s, Adolphus and Amelia Parker emigrated from Canada to West Chazy, New York, to start a dairy and maple sugaring farm. The operation took off in 1889 when they acquired 60 acres of land. As people began to migrate to
cities, farms in the surrounding area closed, opening more opportunities for the Parkers. The family farm operation picked up rapidly, allowing for a massive gain in acreage over the years.
Earl’s generation of Parkers introduced new technologies that quickly became standard in the maple industry. Their main innovation was plastic tubing: hoses connected to trees, replacing the traditional metal spout that was physically tapped into trunks with a hammer. Plastic tubing increases yield, decreases labor and keeps sap clean.
Years later, when the farm landed in Mike Parker’s hands, he decided to
renovate the sugar house to look more modern and industrial. The equipment they used was also modernized to keep up with technological advances. Using a smartphone app to track the whole process has proven useful for the Parkers.
Their equipment was developed from the traditional dairy farming practice of pumping milk through pipes. Now, modern plastic tubing connects to maple trees spanning their 1,000 acres of land, and the sap is vacuumed out. It’s then filtered by reverse osmosis, the same process used to purify water. The sap is then pumped into a large tank to be concentrated. From there it flows into an evaporator.
“It’s a little different than the traditional evaporator in that it uses steam to boil. So it’s kind of like a big pressure cooker,” Laura said.
Excess mineral deposits are left on the bottom of the evaporator, which provides visual proof that maple syrup contains these nutritious components. When consumed, the body processes these raw minerals and vitamins, making maple syrup one of the healthiest sweets around.
“The best thing about maple syrup is it’s purely tree sap boiled down: there’s nothing else,” Laura Parker said.
After flowing through the evaporator, the syrup is filtered again. It is then held in an old milk tank, where it waits to be barreled and sold.
However, the equipment is nothing without a strong team to manage the
work behind it. Laura Parker attributes the farm’s success to family loyalty.
“No one will be there for you like your family will; when it’s 9 o’clock at night and it’s 30 degrees and raining, and someone needs to go chainsaw a tree off of a line way out in the woods,” she said.
The Parker’s 12-person team dedicates most of its time to the business, with those on the payroll sometimes working upward of 70 hours a week.
The winter months, the heart of the season, may require 24-hour attention from the syrupmakers. But even in the off-season summer months the work is constant. Tubing may need to be replaced, the woodlot needs to be maintained, and it’s important to make sure the trees are healthy.
“They (other maple farms) never have the success that we do, even though they have good weather and good trees. They just can’t find the help to do it,” Mike Parker said.
This around-the-clock devotion is the reason the Parker family is among the top 10 suppliers in the world, producing over 40,000 gallons of maple syrup every year. They have a 90,000-tap operation. About 75% of the maple syrup crop they produce goes to the bulk market of Bascom Maple Farms, a leading distributor of commercial maple syrup. There it gets processed and sent to a wide variety of retail locations, including companies like Costco as far away as Florida. The rest gets distributed to
restaurants, grocery stores and other wholesale accounts.
The farm also has a storefront where the Parkers sell varying sizes of maple syrup, candy and cream. Since the shop is attached directly to the sugar house, visitors can’t help but be lured in by the steam marking the sky above the farm. Guests are able to see the process in real time and smell the crisp maple in the air.
The revenue generated by the maple syrup production is the main component in sustaining the farm. The family made the difficult decision years ago to halt their dairy farming operation and solely produce maple syrup. But with their positive mindset, it worked out for the best. Having a
devoted family open to change and trying new technology is what sets the Parkers apart from other farms. Implementing a plastic tubing system and using reverse osmosis seemed crazy to many others in the industry. But now, that process is standard practice. It’s also recyclable, reducing harm to the environment.
The family farm has connected with generations of local maple fans. The
Parkers are happy to see folks coming back and telling stories of how they remember taking a field trip to the farm years ago. Even those who have migrated away from the North Country area love the delectable syrup enough to mail order it online.
Every drop of Parker Family maple syrup that tops waffles and pancakes around the world is the product of over 100 years of family loyalty and care.
— Story and Photos by Natalie St. Denis