Sunday, March 16, 2014

North Country Radio - Canton teen is young maple syrup entrepreneur

Canton teen is young maple syrup entrepreneur            
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Joshua Parker doesn't have his driver's license yet, but he's a young maple syrup entrepreneur with big plans. At 16, he's one of the country's youngest maple producers.

Joshua catches rides with his dad and neighbors to check the taps in his sugar bush. And even though he relies on advice from more experienced maple producers, he's the boss and owner of Parker Maple Farm, near Canton. Five years ago, he started tapping sap with 10 buckets, as a hobby. Last year, he got serious and installed a tubing system with 3,500 taps. He created a business plan, borrowed money for state-of-the-art equipment (with help from his parents) and is waiting for the sap to start flowing.

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Josh is tall and lean, and has an eager demeanor. He's a student at Canton high school, and I meet up with him during the Presidents' Day school break. On a relatively mild, rainy morning, Josh wears a sweatshirt with his company's logo on the chest. It's part of his business and marketing plan that includes bottles and buckets with the logo, too.

At one of his two sugar bushes near Pyrites in St. Lawrence County, Parker and his mentor-slash-employee John give me a tour of the of the sap collection process, starting with huge holding tanks in a shack at the edge of his sugar bush. After collecting sap, Josh and John boil it down, "all at once so I don't have to clean everything twice."
John, who helped Josh get started in the maple business, serves as his right hand man or "woods guy," as he says, helping him tap trees, hang lines and monitor the vacuum system for moving the sap from tree to tank.
Josh's dad helped convert a 2,000 square foot barn on the family's farm into the sugar shack. That's where I help him empty a large barrel of sap into a bottle. During the January thaw he tapped his maple trees for about a week and produced 15 gallons of syrup.
The store shelves are empty, for now, at Parker Maple Farm, near Canton. But Joshua hopes to produce 1,000-1,500 gallons of syrup this season. Photo: Todd Moe
The store shelves are empty, for now, at Parker Maple Farm, near Canton. But Joshua hopes to produce 1,000-1,500 gallons of syrup this season. Photo: Todd Moe

Nearby stands the centerpiece of the operation – a shiny, stainless-steel industrial size evaporator, one of only two in New York state powered by wood pellets. It's been cold this month, and the evaporator is quiet. But Josh is optimistic and he tells me his goal this year is to produce about 1,500 gallons of syrup.

He says some people have told him he should have started out working for someone else, to get some experience before going out on his own. How does he respond? "I'd probably say that yeah, I probably should have. But I didn't, so here I am, and it'll be okay…The first year is going to be bumpy, but the second year will be better and the third year better than that." Josh says he has a lot of people he can call on.
This year, as part of an FFA project at school, Josh's classmates will hang sap buckets (with the Parker Maple Farm logo) around town and share in the experience of turning sap to syrup.
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