A Sweet Adventure Among the Maple Trees

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If there is any place to learn more about sustainable agricultural practices, it’s definitely West Virginia.

Last weekend, I attended the Winter Blues Farmer’s Market held at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center. Having been in Philadelphia for grad school and work for three years, it was inspiring to return and see local vendors practicing environmentally-friendly practices and selling their trade. I drifted from booth to booth and saw vendors selling maple syrup, honey, organic popcorn, salt, coffee, vegetables, and more. There was a particular sign that stood out to me calling people to a fun adventure to experience a statewide Mountain Maple Syrup Day. “Come next week to the sugar shack to learn how maple syrup is made,” said Paul Ronk, owner of Ronk Family Farm located in Alum Creek, WV. As an advocate for sustainable businesses and all things nature, I couldn’t wait for this sweet adventure (pun intended) happening the following weekend.

My adventure began with a drive flaunting more scenic parts of WV—the beauty of this state is that you don’t need to drive far to experience the wilderness. After driving through winding roads and flowing streams, I was met by Ronk family members directing me to park and then board a golf cart. The golf cart took me to the top of the mountain to find a sugar shack nestled among the maple trees.

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Sugar Maple Trees

To quickly present you with the fun facts and to remind you, the Sugar Maple tree is claimed as WV’s state tree! This amazing tree is home to the Cerulean Werbler, a bird that migrates from South America to find its home here in the woods. However, this bird is in danger of extinction. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) works with Maple Syrup producers to remove less desirable species, which allows less competition for maple trees to grow. This becomes a win-win situation for both the maple syrup producer and the size of the bird’s habitat.

The Process

Paul Ronk provided a wonderful, well-informed demonstration of the maple syrup making-process that he’s been doing for a couple of years on his family farm. Here is what I learned:

  1. A small in diameter blue line is attached from tree to tree where a hole is carefully drilled in each maple tree.

  2. This is where the climate plays a large role. The freezing night temperatures met with a warmer day temperature creates a pressure that allows the tree to release sap into the tube, carrying the sap from the tree to a large 600 gallon tank. The extraction goes on from January through March, which the elevation determines the length of the season.

  3. The sap is then pumped back up into a tank located in the sugar shack.

  4. From the tank, the sap goes into a reverse osmosis machine that separates the water from the sap.

  5. The sap is then boiled in the evaporator to become the consistency of syrup. It takes 80 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup!

  6. The syrup is now ready for the filtration step. It’s taken into a machine that filters any residue left in the syrup.

  7. Finally, the syrup is ready for bottling.

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The Benefits

As with most purchases, I make I like to know the health benefits. Maple Syrup contains beneficial minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc, manganese, and potassium. It’s a natural sweetener that is low in fructose content. A diet high in fructose is detrimental to heart and liver health; therefore, maple syrup is the natural and safe alternative to corn syrup and white sugar.

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The tour concluded with a delicious complimentary breakfast (yup you guessed it—pancakes and maple syrup) provided by Ronk Family Farm! Are you tasting the syrup yet? No worries, you can enjoy this fun-filled family activity on March 16th from 9-3pm! Can’t wait for you to visit Ronk Family Farm and have your own sweet adventure!