The Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association hosted their 2016 Fall Tour on October 22 in District 5. The day began with registration at Morley’s Maple Syrup in Luck. About 75 people from all over the state and a few from Minnesota attended. The first stop was Forts Folle Avoine Historical Park near Danbury, Wisconsin. Attendees got to explore on a self- guided tour the blacksmith shop, school house, and logging museum. Then they had a guided tour of the fur trading exhibits, huts, and area where they would make their maple syrup. Then they enjoyed an excellent lunch at the Fort, followed by a short WMSPA meeting and door prizes.
The next stop was High Point Maple Syrup which is located on the north slope of Polk County’s highest point of elevation. Paul and his wife, Karen, Pederson bought this 45 acre sugar bush in 2009 and made their first syrup in 2010 with 809 taps. In the seven years they have had the place, there taps have gone from 809 taps to 1700 taps, and their syrup production has gone from 30 gallons to nearly 600 gallons. They use a wood fired evaporator to cook their sap down. After doing research in the next year they plan on replacing their 5/16” to 3/16”. Attendees got the chance to walk out in the woods and see their tubing set up, and were then able to go in his sugar house to see their evaporator and bottling room.
After leaving High Point Maple Syrup they traveled east of Luck to tour Morley’s Maple Syrup. John and Crystal Morley started with 350 taps in which they collected in pails. As there number of taps grew so did their family. Today they have over 8000 taps and collect most of their sap through plastic tubing crisscrossing the hills into tanks. They do this with help from their 4 young children, family members and friends. Attendees got to see the sugar house, r.o machine, and evaporator. John even fired up the evaporator so people could see how it worked. The day ended back at Morley’s Equipment Supply store in Luck where they sell maple syrup equipment.
WMSPA member Russ Hanson from Orr Lake Sugarbush in Cushing, has graciously provided photos and images of the days events:
Click here to view his collection of videos
Click here to view his collection of photos.
Click here for an overview of the entire days’ events.
The 2015 annual tour started with the bus leaving Pittman’s Maple Syrup at 8:30 am and heading toward Alma, WI where they visited the Richard and Kathryn Harry Car Collection, a very special and private collection of Franklin and Studebaker cars.
After leaving the Harry Car Collection, the group made a quick stop at the scenic overlook at Buena Vista Point for some breathtaking views.
After a break for lunch (consisting of pork, chicken, and wine) at Danzinger Vineyards in Alma, the tour continued by visiting three area sugarhouses. The first stop was the Rick and Debbie Traun family farm and their 4th generation sugarbush.
Then it was on to John and Shirley Smith’s at Eau Galle Apiaries, LLC. In addition to their syrup production John and Shirley also have a nice honey business to view.
The weather seemed more like November or December rather than October as people assembled at Sweet Natures Foods outside of Hamburg on Saturday, October 3rd for the annual WMSPA Fall Tour. As we drove down from Rice Lake early Saturday we went by areas decorated with over an inch of snow on the ground and saw at least one car in the ditch. However, the cold and snow did not deter people from coming on the tour, and over 40 members from around the state showed up by 8:45.
Ray and Pam Melander helped organize a great tour for us. We started at the Sweet Natures Foods facility, an LLC sugar bush that Ray Melander and Steve Emmerich established in 2010. Both Steve and Ray had been making maple syrup prior to starting the company, and Steve owned the feed mill building that became the home of Sweet Natures Food. It’s a great facility with lots of space for their operation. The operation has expanded until today they process sap from around 3000 taps. Steve and Nancee’s son, Christopher, developed a computerized control system that measures sap in, output of RO, flue pan temperature on a flat screen and includes alerts when wood needs to be added. Not only does the system aid in managing syrup production, but Christopher also received a college scholarship for his accomplishment.
Evaporator at Sweet Natures Foods facility near Hamburg
From Sweet Natures we went nearby to Hamburg and visited the German Immigrant Historical Center. Back in the 1850’s and 1860’s large number of immigrants from Northern Germany, then called Pomeranian (a province in Prussia), came to Marathon and Lincoln to work as lumberjacks, farmers, and craftsmen. Members of today’s Pomeranian Society of central Wisconsin work to preserve the language, history, and traditions that helped shape the culture of this area. In addition to maintaining a very informative historical center, they also are involved in cultural events and have formed a Pomeranian dancing group that has performed nationally.
Pomeranian Historical Marker in Hamburg
After leaving the Pomeranian historical center, we went to visit Volgel’s Misty Hollow Farm where most of us were amazed by the robotic milking system that Eric and Misty Vogel installed in 2010. The robot system eliminates the need to milk 2-3 times a day by allow cows to be milked as they need. A cow comes into the robot station and the device provides them with their ration of nutritional pelleted feed and then proceeds to wash the utter, attach the milking cups, and milk the cow while she eats. When the robot has finished milking, it opens a gate to release the cow and then opens another gate to let the next one in. During the milking process the robot measures the cow’s temperature, amount of milk, and other statistics that help in monitoring the herd’s health and maximizing production. If a cow comes back in less than 6 hours it is immediately released. I thought it was really interesting to see how the cows lined up – patiently waiting for their turn, better than you see at certain store checkout lines. Eric told us that the system can handle up to 60 cows. After that, a second robot needs to be installed. The cows will select the robot with the shortest line – pretty smart on their part. The farm has 250 acres of tillable land with 80 acres of corn, 40 acres of soybeans, and the rest in alfalfa. While the robot cost 225,000.00, the Vogels feel the benefits of labor, herd health, and reduced wear and tear on the farmer’s body more than make up for the costs. They keep certain parts on hand and have a service technician that can fix problems in a matter of hours.
From Vogels we traveled a short distance to the historical Fromm fur farm near Hamburg. The Fromm story is simply amazing. At the beginning of the 1900s, two brothers from a small farm near Hamburg decided to they were going to start a Silver Fox fur farm. After an incredible amount of work and fortitude, they created a multi-million dollar international fur business that sold the only Silver Fox fur in World. The Fromms became so prominent in the fur trade that fur auctions previously held in New York City were hosted in their facility bringing in buyers from around the world. On display in the facility is a copy of a check for over 1 million dollars in proceeds from a single day’s sale of silver fox pelts. The Fromm Brothers Historical Preservation Society, run by current owner Greg Strasser, is maintaining the property and facilities that include a number of buildings used for displaying furs, hosting fur buyers, and housing many employees. At one time the farm had over 500 employees bringing revenue into the Wausau area throughout the depression.
Fromm Fur Company Historical Center
After the Fromm Fur tour, we went to nearby Athens where we enjoyed an excellent buffet style dinner at Pagels. Honestly, I felt this was one of the best buffets I have experienced. Included was a delightful pumpkin cake that our host Jack made specifically for us (he included some maple syrup in the receipt – yum). Along with the excellent food and service, Jack has a great facility and we are considering having our next fall meeting at Pagels. If you are coming through Athens at meal time be sure to stop at Pagels!
After lunch we travelled to Copper River Cranberry Company where we learned how much work and costs are involved in growing and harvesting cranberries. We are familiar with all the work and steps that go into making maple syrup, but I am usually amazed at how much I often do not know about what it takes to produce other products right here in our own backyard. For example, the cranberry bogs often need to be flooded with water to prevent freezing (even in July!). The cranberry plants cannot stand long exposure to water, requiring the bogs to be frequently drained. During the winter the plants need to be flooded and frozen, but any water under the ice needs to be drained to prevent damage to the plants. Harvesting involves using a special tractor and rake that knocks the cranberries off without damaging the plants. They are then racked to one end of the bog and sucked in using a massive pump. The whole operation was a great learning experience for many of us.
We next traveled to more familiar grounds and visited two sugar bushes. Our first stop was at Northwoods Maple Products. Northwoods was started with just 11 taps in the spring of 2004 by a young Joel Oelke, under 10 years old at the time. Joel currently has over 400 taps on pipeline with a 2 x 8 evaporator and 250 gal/hour RO. Joel continues to run the sugar bush although he is now a freshman at University of Wisconsin – River Falls, pursuing a degree in Dairy Science and Ag Business.
Joel Oelke giving a tour of his tubing
Our last stop was at Klebenow’s Sugar Bush. Brian Klebenow’s family including his father Melvin, and brother Keith have been making maple syrup since Melvin’s father Eldor ran a small operation in the 1940s. In the 1950s, Eldor moved the operation 20 miles north to the 215 acres of woodland he purchased in 1947. After Eldor passed away in 1985, Brian and his family decided to expand and continue the operation, remodeling the building and adding more taps. Today Brian has a modern up to date operation tapping over 7000 trees and buying sap from a additional 3-4 thousand trees. Their 4-post RO machine along with the modern wood fired 4×15 evaporator annually produce over 3500 gallons of high quality maple syrup. Brian keeps up with the latest in maple technology and uses an air bubbler system in the pans to increase boiling efficiency and produce a lighter grade of maple syrup. On top of all this, the sugar bush is located in a beautiful setting that includes a pond and hunting camp. Brian’s location is remote enough that he has a generator the provides power to the building and equipment.
Brian Klebenow showing us his 4×15 wood fired evaporator
We did a lot on this tour and it is a credit to Pam and Ray Melander for organizing it and keeping things close to schedule in order to make all of this possible. Thanks to everyone for attending and to all the host that did such a great job of showing us their operations. I know some people have other events the first weekend of October, so next year we hope to do the tour on the 2nd weekend. Please stay tuned to the Web site and future announcements during 2015.