Nestled in eastern Delaware County is a staple of the Northeast, a sugar shack producing fresh maple syrup. Except this one has a twist, a vanilla twist. Or a chocolate twist. Or bourbon — whatever you’re into.
Tree Juice, owned and operated by Jake Fairbairn and Ryan Annetts and run out of their family’s “Lazy Crazy Acres Farm” is bringing a fresh approach to the production of maple syrup. The idea for the business was born of necessity, according to Annetts.
It began when Fairbairn had a gelato shop, and was purchasing maple syrup from local distributors. They realized they had the potential to create their own on the family farm, due to a large stand of old-growth maple trees.
“We thought, ‘let’s resurrect the family sugar shack, and it snowballed from there,” Annetts said. Their first year, they produced 50 gallons of syrup. Now in their eighth season, they produce around 2,000.
Syrup production has its challenges. Knowing when to tap the trees takes effort and planning.
“We watch the weather like hawks, keeping a couple of weeks ahead of ourselves. If we see a warm-up trend of two to four days where it stays above freezing, we know it’s time to start tapping.” For the first time this year, they had a team of five to tap trees, including two new members of the crew learning the business.
Fluctuating weather patterns over the past few years have caused some concern and made choosing the best time to tap more difficult, but the largest agricultural challenge is insect damage, according to Annetts. For this company, challenge means a chance to innovate.
“We went through a challenging year last year because of low production, which forced us to do something we had wanted to do for some time. We decided to build a co-op between sugar shacks. So we started buying maple from other producers. We pay them more than they would be getting from big box buyers, so it helps out everyone in the local area,” Annetts explained. Maple that is purchased from other area farms is used to make the many flavor-infused syrups on offer, while the maple from the family farm is used for the classic variety.
Flavor infusions are another thing that sets Tree Juice apart. A quick perusal of their offerings turns up syrups infused with vanilla, complete with the beans in the bottle, bourbon and rye barrel-aged syrups, even lemon infused syrups — which Annetts admit many people balk at trying, but says they quickly fall in love with. The syrup is bottled and packaged much like something you would see in a local brewery.
“We decided we wanted to be a company that made a good traditional maple syrup, but with innovations in the syrup world. We decided to brand it in a fun, approachable manner and make it locally available. We wanted to stand out,” Annetts said.
Tree Juice is available online and at various retailers in the Delaware and Otsego county area, but there is another way the public can get in on the sweet stuff. Tree Juice operates as a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. Anyone can join the CSA by going online and selecting the level that fits his or her budget. Members invest a small amount of money up front, giving the farm an early season cash infusion and, in return, members are repaid in syrup and discounts.
"The financial side really does help us, especially early in the season to get things moving and grooving," Annets said. "Customers benefit by knowing exactly where their food is coming from and who is making it.” Tree Juice is also planning to expand CSA member benefits in the coming years.
The company philosophy at Tree Juice is focused on supporting those in the community around it, including staff.
“We are trying to build a slightly different type of company, where the company supports the team members, not just the team supporting the company. That means a strong work-life balance,” Annetts said.
“We took on a new partner, Greg, and gave him shares in the company, so he can take that and be proud of it.” Giving staff a piece of the pie, Annetts said, makes everyone’s life easier by sharing the workload as well as the profits and success.
Those interested in seeing how the product is made are invited to the farm for an open house, March 23 and March 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The farm is at 59 Ryder Hollow Road in Arkville. The Tulip and Rose restaurant in Franklin will feature Tree Juice products during a special event in March.