By JEFF BAUGHAN
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel
FRIENDLY, W.Va. — At the top of the ridge of Cedar Run Farm the land is open and there’s lots of it. The sun shines, the wind blows and cuts like a knife, dropping 30 degree temperatures in the teens wind chill. Chris Metz rides his side car buggy along the ridge and shakes his head over what could have been.
“Today would have been a perfect day for sap gathering,” he says and heads towards an area of maple trees.
Metz and his wife Betsy are the owners of Cedar Run Farm, which is 610 acres nestled back in the hills off Friendly Hill Road. The Metz’ farm produces high quality maple syrup. Well, produced is a better word for the 2017 season. There haven’t been too many people sad to see early, spring like temperatures. Metz is one of them.
“The warm weather at the end of February put an end to the syrup season,” Metz said. “There’s sap in the lines right now, but it’s no good.”
“We lost about a month of collecting,” Metz said. “We usually start the last week of January and go to March 20. This year we ended at Feb. 28. We lost at least 50 percent of our production. We’re short about 800 gallons of table quality product. Sixteen hundred gallons would have been a pretty decent year.”
The days of buckets hanging from trees are gone according to Metz. Buckets have been replaced by plastic tubing snaking its way down the hill to the pump house. Metz said the farm is using “150-160 acres of the usable 500 plus acres. We have mostly sugar maple with some red maple mixed in to collect from.
“The sugar maple tree sap is sweeter,” Metz said, “but you get more volume of sap from a red maple.”
Metz said for the area he needs to collect “56 gallons of sap for a gallon of syrup.” He added he gets about a quart of syrup per tapped tree. He said there were 7,500 tapped trees on the farm for the season. “A tapped tree with constatly replenish the sap as it pulls water through the roots. But you don’t want to put a tap in the same spot as the year before. Our rule is at least six inches up and down, left and right, from a tap spot from the previous year. Usually what I do is mark a tap with a small bit of paint.”
Metz, who is a State Farm insurance agent in St. Marys and an assistant defensive coordinator on the West Virginia Class A state champion St. Marys football team, has an undergraduate degree from West Virginia University in forest resource management and a masters degree in business administration. They have two children, Abigail, 8, and Ian, who is 5.
“We bought the farm land in 2011 but didn’t start maple syrup production here until this year,” Metz said. “In 2008, I was a in a executive position with State Farm and dad, Bill Metz, wanted to retire and wanted to make maple syrup. Mom (Debbie) was okay with that and Betsy liked the idea of moving home.” Chris is a graduate of Sistersville High School and Betsy graduated from St. Marys High.
Clear tubing is connected to the small white tap in a tree, which eventually meets with the blue tubing which crisscrosses its way down the hill with tubes from other trees.
“The sugar is at the bottom of the roots and when the tree comes to life for the growing year, the sap catches the sugar and brings it up with it,” said Metz. “The warm temperatures will change the metabolism within the tree. The sap gets to the point where it becomes a ‘buddy’ and the taste is not suitable for the table.”
Metz then says what all that last sentence meant was “the syrup tastes like cardboard and you don’t want any of that.”
From Metz’ pump house, it’s about 6,000 feet to the tank room of the facility when the Cedar Run Farm maple syrup is produced. There are four tanks in the building, each holding 3,141 gallons of sap per tank.
Sugar is not added the syrup to raise the content according to Metz. “We have a reverse osmosis machine which takes the sap and forces it through four different membranes. In doing so, it removes water from the sap. By reducing the amount of water in the sap, you greatly reduce the boiling time needed. And we’ll take that permeated water and wash out the membranes, clean cell tanks, clean pans on the evaporator. There’s nothing wasted as this water has no minerals in it, so it’s a natural cleaning agent.”
Metz said removing the water from the sap is how the sugar amount in the syrup increase. “The sugar ratio increases per volume as the water is removed. It’s a pure product.”
The evaporator which is seperated by a wall from the tank room. “The evaporator boils 385 gallons of sap an hour,” Metz said. “And at 14 percent concentrate sap, it makes about 60 gallons finished syrup an hour. The evaporator room has many 40 gallon drums upright and stacked against the wall. Those which are upright are filled with finished product.
Each drum is filled with more than 400 pounds of syrup as Metz said finished product of syrup weighs approximately 11 pounds. “Scot’s Landscaping is Vienna has our products as well as places in Charleston and Huntington. The Marriott in Charleston has it as one of the amenities for its guests.”
Metz said next year he will not be caught off guard. “We’ll have everything ready to go right after the first of the year. We won’t get caught again if the temperatures are up. We’ll be ready in early January.”
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