From Sap to Maple Sugaring and Handcrafted Maple Syrup in the Hudson Valley

Maple sugaring and handcrafted maple syrup in the Hudson Valley

Katie Smith and her husband Chris Cashen own and operate The Farm at Miller’s Crossing in Hudson, an organic vegetable, herb and flower farm with a small herb of beef cattle and hundreds of maple trees on 200 acres in the Hudson Valley. They are the third generation owners of the farm that was originally bought in the late 1940s by Chris’ grandfather. Katie and Chris are the first in the family to actually farm the land, combining the best of traditional farming with modern innovation to grow quality organic produce and flowering plants.

Well then, how does a bountiful organic produce and beef farm get into the maple sugaring business? Katie laughs and says that about four years ago she was in a hardware store and, upon checking out, spotted a do-it-yourself (DIY) maple sugaring kit with seven taps. Having four young children she thought this would be a fun family project to do on the farm, which has about 1800 maple trees spread over two parcels of the farm. Seven taps resulted in a slightly smoky, sweet syrup that was quasi-successful for their first experiment. But Chris thought it was fun too so he and Katie started putting in more taps the next season. Four years later the seven DIY taps have grown to more than 1800.

And the rest is history as they are now in their third season of making commercial maple products. Rather than buckets to catch the sap, the farm uses tubing to bring the sap to the sugar house with a vacuum system to assist the natural flow of the sap from the tree. The sap is pumped into stainless steel holding tanks in the sugar house. They bought a used reverse osmosis machine for filtering about 83 percent of the water out of the sap to create a concentrated sap. They have a wood-stoked evaporator that heats up the sap; boiling off the remaining water to bring the syrup to the proper sugar density.

As I talked to Katie, she was feeding firewood into the evaporator, which upon opening the door was like a roaring inferno spewing flames three feet high. Meanwhile, her young daughter was busy stirring the syrup that had come out of the evaporator. In the stirring stage the syrup is mixed with powder from diatomaceous earth to further filter and clarify the syrup – the powder catching every impurity before it is bottled. The syrup is then stored in 40-gallon barrels in a 34-35 degree storage room. It is an arduous process that needs constant attention to ensure that the density of the syrup is accurate and consistent. Not an easy task for a young couple running a huge organic farm, a herd of cattle and parenting four young children.

Fortunately, they are not alone as it is indeed a family farm with Chris’ parents and five of his siblings living on or near the farm. There is lots of help to care for the humanely raised cows that are grass-fed organically on 75 acres of pasture (30 acres are for vegetables within a 60-acre rotation) and for tending the seedlings in the solar-heated greenhouse where Chris ingeniously designed and installed an automatic misting system. There are several solar panels that also provide the energy for the maple sugaring machinery providing enormous savings on electricity.

Three years into the operation, their maple production has slowly been on the rise. In their first year, Katie says they made more than 400 gallons of syrup. Last year, by April 11 they had more than 500 gallons of syrup. The syrup products include maple syrup, maple cream, granulated maple sugar (many say the best sugar for diabetics) and maple candy. This year, because of the cold, harsh winter, production has been lower as the sap has been slower to flow. However, there is still plenty of time as long as the nights are cold, which may be the case for a while.

The 200-acre Farm at Miller’s Crossing is a beautiful sprawling farm divided by The Agawamuck Creek, which provides water for the animals and plants that are raised there. The old Albany-Boston Rail bed remains on the northwestern end of the property, providing the name Miller’s Crossing, which was the stop and original address of the 200 year old farm. The farm is protected by an easement from the Columbia (County) Land Conservancy. Chris and Katie are committed to the preservation of this farm and the challenge of sustainable farming while providing healthy, organics foods for their family and the community.

To Chris and Katie it is paramount to preserve the health of the ecosystem in the Hudson Valley and to provide food that is very local and very seasonal. The bounty from the farm is sold through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) memberships, at local farmers market, some local restaurants and through a solid wholesale business.

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Margaret was public relations director for two luxury New York City hotels, where she did extensive research into America’s culinary heritage. She is a founding member of The James Beard Foundation; formerly, owner of a Jersey Shore inn and restaurant, The Pelican Bistro, recognized as one of the 10 Best New Restaurants in NJ by New Jersey Monthly, and a PR consultant to restaurateurs. For the past several years she has been a contributing writer about food, drink and restaurant news for many publications. She is a passionate cook and wine lover who moved to the Hudson Valley and is in awe of the immense wealth of agricultural, artisanal and culinary talent in the area. Connect with her at www.TastefulLiving.net, Hudson Valley Wine & Restaurant Examiner and Shore Region Food & Restaurant Examiner. She can be reached at mmorgan531@gmail.com.

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