Coombs Family Farms buys maple syrup from hundreds of small family farms. By buying from small farms, we help maple farmers stay in business, thereby ensuring this important lifestyle survives as well as the rural communities that depend on it.
Organic maple syrup farmer Peter Rhoades is a 4th generation sugar maker and sap producer who has worked on his 100-year-old family farm in Alstead, New Hampshire since he was 14. Peter and his wife Debbie manage their 4,000-tap maple forest together, and have converted all of their taps to environmentally friendly health spouts. Their farm was certified organic in 1994.
A forestry consultant for several New Hampshire towns, Peter works with the Society for the Protection of Forests and is a Farm Service Agency committee member. He conducts seminars on his farm every year on tree thinning and forestry management. One of his workshops teaches new maple farmers the proper way to tap a tree using health spouts. “Tapping the tree is the most important part of sugaring,” says Peter.
As a lifelong, dedicated forester, Peter spends a great deal of his time in the woods. In fact, it is almost impossible to keep him out of the woods! Immediately following his release from the hospital for shoulder surgery in 1998, he had to go up into the mountains to assess the damage done by a major ice storm.
“I didn’t have anything better to do,” explains Peter dryly. “So, I took a hike up a mountain. What I saw there was amazing -– we got 4 to 6″ of ice. The wind blew so hard during that ice storm that there wasn’t any real ice buildup on branches. But, at the end of a branch, the ice built up and made a Blueberry bush branch 4″ longer –– all in ice! There were ice sculptures everywhere I looked!””
Wayne Emery began making pure maple syrup on his small Dummerston, Vermont farm back in 1972. As a young boy, Wayne helped tap trees, gather maple sap, and watched as his grandfather boiled the sap and turned it into amber-gold syrup in the family sugarhouse. As is the story with so many maple farmers, the art of making maple syrup is passed on from generation to generation. So, when Wayne’s grandfather passed away, he took over the sugaring operation on his 2500- to 3000- tap tree farm.
“I use health spouts because they are less stressful for the trees,” explains Wayne, who is now recognized locally as a champion of health spouts. “They heal up faster than the larger, old style spouts.”
Several years ago Wayne noticed that his trees were not looking as healthy as they used to. Believing that this may have had something to due with acid rain, he stopped tapping a number of trees and “tapped lighter” on the ones still in production. Wayne also decided to switch over to environmentally friendly health spouts.
In between tending his small farm, Wayne also works as a road foreman and a volunteer fireman for the town of Dummerston. He takes pride in building some of his own sugar making equipment. And while he does most of the boiling, Wayne’s son, wife and several of his friends are there to lend a hand or two, especially during the busy labor intensive setup time in the spring when the sap begins to run. “No human hands ever touch my sap or syrup,” adds Wayne with a proud grin.