By December 16, 2015 Read More →

WV farm’s maple sugar ranked best at international conference

Weirton Daily Times contributed photo The Farrises and Herveys have sold maple syrup and other products from their farm at various events. On hand at the West Virginia State Fair were Fred and Cathy Hervey, Britney and Charlie Farris, and their friend, Gary Rush, a close friend who has assisted on the farm.

Weirton Daily Times contributed photo
The Farrises and Herveys have sold maple syrup and other products from their farm at various events. On hand at the West Virginia State Fair were Fred and Cathy Hervey, Britney and Charlie Farris, and their friend, Gary Rush, a close friend who has assisted on the farm.

WELLSBURG, W.Va. — It was a sweet surprise when the family behind Family Roots Farm entered their maple sugar and syrup into the North American Maple Syrup Council’s 2015 international conference.

Not only was the Wellsburg farm’s maple sugar named the best among maple sugar entered, its maple syrup received a perfect score of 100 at the event.

Britney Farris – who runs the farm with her husband, Charlie, and parents, Fred and Cathy Hervey – said the score put their syrup somewhere in the top 5 rated by the event’s judges, but not in the top three, which each received awards.

The Herveys said they were just pleased to be able to participate in the international event, which often is held in a New England state or Canada but was held this year at Seven Springs Resort in Pennsylvania.

“We’re still in shock. We beat the Canadians and Vermont (producers),” said Cathy.

Britney said Family Roots was one of five West Virginia farms represented at the conference.

“The whole time we kept saying we just hope someone from West Virginia will win. It would be great for our state,” she said.

The family has been making maple syrup on its farm off state Route 27 for many years but didn’t start selling it until a few years ago.

Before that, they gave it family members and friends.

Britney said judges at the NAMSC conference rate maple sugar according to its overall appearance, texture, moisture – it shouldn’t be too dry or too hard, she explained – and, of course, taste.

The syrup is judged for its density, color, clarity and flavor, she said.

Britney explained maple sugar results when maple syrup is cooked down at a high temperature.

“There’s a lot of heat and a lot of stirring involved,” she said.

Britney said the family once stirred the syrup by hand but now uses a large turntable-like device to stir a kettle that can hold up to 16 pounds of sugar.

Each February, as winter temperatures become warmer, the family and a handful of friends drill small holes into their maple trees and insert a tube to extract sap water from inside.

The family initially used a hose and bucket for each tree, but has since gone from 20 taps to many more by using a network of tubes connected to a tank that will hold 500 gallons, said Fred.

“It takes about 50 gallons of sap water to make one gallon of syrup,” said Cathy.

The family has used its syrup to produce other maple products, including a cream that may be applied to toast or used as cookie icing, and maple-coated almonds and walnuts.

“One of the most popular things we sell at festivals is maple sugar cotton candy. It’s loved by all ages,” Britney said.

The farm sells the sugar by the pound and in shakers so it can be sprinkled on oatmeal, popcorn, sweet potatoes and other food and includes a card with suggestions for its use.

Britney added it can be mixed with cream cheese for a tasty fruit dip.

As secretary of the West Virginia Maple Syrup Association, Cathy has educated other farmers in the various ways maple sugar may be used.

She said three teaspoons of white or brown sugar can be replaced by one teaspoon of maple sugar in many recipes.

Farming isn’t new to the family. Its farm dates back to the 1770s and has been worked by seven generations of the Hervey family.

A native of Wisconsin, Charlie helped his grandparents on their farm and at their stand at a local farmers market. He and Britney met while in college.

Members of the family also produce a variety of vegetables and are regulars at the Brooke County Farmers Markets, of which Britney is a board member. The family recently added to its crops sorghum, a grass that produces a sweet, sticky syrup that’s often confused with molasses.

The family is quick to share credit for its success with others, including friends in Mount Storm, W.Va., who shared their experience in producing maple syrup, as well as Gary Rush and other friends who help to collect the sap water.

The farm was recognized for receiving the NAMSC award at the the Governor’s Conference on Tourism held at Oglebay Resort. Hervey also served on a panel for that event.

Britney said state tourism officials are interested in using maple syrup and farms in general to attract visitors to the state.

She said the biggest benefit from the honor is the free advertising, with the farm receiving many inquiries from potential customers.

Much of their product is sold through the farm’s website and Facebook page, but the family is seeking a local business to sell it.

Their syrup can be purchased at the Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center, the Shrader Center at Oglebay Park, Moundsville Pharmacy, South Perk Market coffee shop in Morgantown, the Vintage Lady boutique in Harpers Ferry and Tamarack, a state-run store in Beckley that showcases a variety of West Virginia products.

Britney said as a small producer it’s difficult for the farm to compete with large companies that can produce mass quantities of maple syrup.

“We just focus on quality. My dad always stresses doing it right and (with the award from NAMSC), it paid off,” she said.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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