Maple syrup has a long and sweet history as part of Ohio agriculture. It is a history shared by hard working producers like the Meimer and Hively families, both of whom have sugarhouses on the Maple Madness Driving Tour sponsored by the Ohio Maple Producers Association in March.
Morrow County Farm Bureau members Eddie Lou and Jim Meimer are seventh-generation maple syrup producers at their sugarbush in Mt. Gilead, and the Hively family is sixth-generation producers in Salem. Columbiana County Farm Bureau members Dave and Nancy Hively’s farm dates back to the 1800s, as does the Meimers.
“Our grandchildren are fifth-generation sugarmakers. It takes the whole family to make this farm work,” said Dave Hively.
Old tap lines, maple candy molds and tools used in the previous century line the walls of the Meimer’s Pleiades Maple Farm store, showcasing the path of this part in Ohio’s agriculture industry and the value this family places on its heritage. Eddie Lou manages the store and most of the marketing for Pleiades, “We just really enjoy making maple syrup here and having the opportunity to interact with customers from across Ohio.”
Yet, son, Jim Meimer and Pleiades Farm are also embracing the future of maple syrup production with state-of-the art technology. A testament to having their eye on the future is the recently built sugarhouse with a reverse osmosis system, a process that according to Jim “quickly squeezes about two-thirds of the water out and then we can boil the remaining sap into syrup,” cutting down production time significantly.
Traditionally the sap was collected in buckets attached to tapped trees, but today trees are tapped directly into plastic lines that bring the sap to the sugarhouse. The intricate system of tubing connects trees from all over the farm and can pump the sap over a mile to its processing point. The system is tested and spot repaired in early December, allowing for time to find weak spots or leaks in the system. Generally the tubing will last seven to 10 years depending on weather and tree conditions.
This time and labor saving system has allowed the maple syrup business to grow in production on and off the farm. In fact, Pleiades Farm has over 3,000 taps throughout the woods on their farm alone. In addition, they also rent more than 7,000 taps across northern Ohio and bring the sap to the farm to be processed. The Hively farm boasts nearly 4,000 taps and works with other nearby farmers to help collect additional sap for processing.
Just like the evolution of maple syrup production, maple syrup marketing has adjusted to the times. While a majority of the syrup produced at both farms is put in large drums and shipped to a commodity market, a portion goes directly to consumers at their farm stores, festivals and in some cases local restaurants.
Each farm has a unique approach to marketing its maple syrup. Awards won in competition on the international level have allowed the Hively family to show the world that you don’t have to go to Canada or Vermont for the best syrup around. In fact, they’ve taken home top honors twice. Dave emphasizes, “Ohio has always made some of the best maple syrup in the world and we try to share that with people every chance we get.”
Eddie Lou showcases Pleiades maple syrup through the development of her own line of maple candies. Made in the tradition passed on to her from her aunts, she creates artisan candies in the form of suckers and hard and soft candies made in maple leaf shaped molds.
With a blend of tradition and innovation, the Hively and Meimer families continue to grow the heritage of Ohio maple syrup. Passed from generation to generation, these operations adapt and flourish in an ever-changing market that demands hard work, a unique knowledge of the environment and weather conditions and the flexibility to change with consumer needs.
Maple Syrup Terminology
GRADE A: Golden Color and Delicate Taste
Best for traditional uses: drizzled over pancakes, waffles, oatmeal and yogurt.
GRADE A: Amber Color and Rich Flavor
Formerly: Grade A: Medium Amber or Grade A: Dark Amber
Bake with this, glaze salmon with it or stir into cocktails
GRADE A: Dark Color and Robust Flavor
Formerly: Grade A: Dark
Amber or Grade B
Use in BBQ sauce and as a glaze for grilled meat.
Learn more about Pleiades Maple Products and the Meimer’s story: