Wellsburg farm incorporates new, old techniques

West Virginia Maple Days held

TAPPING INTO A MAPLE TREE — Britney Farris, right, co-owner of Family Roots Farm, recruited Cash Ridgely, 6, of Wellsburg, to aid her in demonstrating how a tap is drilled into a maple tree to draw the sapwater from which maple syrup products are produced. Free tours of the Wellsburg farm were offered Saturday as part of West Virginia Maple Days. - Warren Scott

WELLSBURG — Tours of the Family Roots Farm on Saturday served to spark memories of farm life and introduce people to new techniques used on farms.

Britney Hervey Farris noted she is the seventh generation of Herveys to run the family farm begun in 1770 near Genteel Ridge Road and state Route 27. She added the deed for the farm was scrawled on a buckskin hide and signed by Patrick Henry.

In recent years she, her husband, Charlie, and parents, Fred and Cathy, have made the farm a business and incorporated some new technology to help them in providing maple products and other produce with a natural quality and flavor.

The tours were offered as part of West Virginia Maple Days, a statewide campaign aimed at promoting awareness of the growing number of maple farmers in the Mountain State.

Family Roots Farm is among 30 members of the West Virginia Syrup Producers Association, a group focused on promoting research and education supporting the production of maple-related products.

With more maple trees than Vermont, West Virginia has great potential to expand in that market, said Farris.

With the help of 6-year-old Cash Ridgely of Wellsburg and others, Farris demonstrated how a tap is drilled about 1.5 inches into the bark of a maple tree.

In some cases, a large plastic bag, capable of holding 3 to 5 gallons of sapwater, is attached. When filled, each bag weighs more than 40 pounds, and the Hervey family has collected as many as 500 bags in a season. So they have attached to some trees a series of plastic hoses that convey the sapwater to a large tank that makes collecting it easier, Hervey said.

The family uses an evaporator to boil the sapwater into syrup, with about 50 gallons of sapwater needed to produce 1 gallon of syrup.

Denzil Stoneking of Follansbee, a visitor, said on his family’s farm “we used to make a little maple syrup. All we had was a little jar. It takes a lot to make it.”

To ease the process, the family has acquired a reverse osmosis machine to drain more of the liquid first, reducing the boiling time by half.

The device is among several new additions to the farm. The family applied $2,500 they received as winners of the Brooke County Economic Development Authority’s Entrepreneurial Pitch contest last year toward the purchase of a stainless steel table, three-bowl sink, hand sink and refrigerator for the farm’s “Sugar Shack,” a 40-by-40-foot building is the center of the farm’s maple product operations and the start of what they hope can be a commercial kitchen capable of producing products sought by grocery stores.

They and Gary Rush, a friend who assists on the farm, showed visitors how the syrup may be further heated to produce maple sugar sold by the farm in bulk or in sugar-coated walnuts and almonds or cotton candy.

Visitors were able to sample or purchase many of the products.

Hervey noted the farm’s product isn’t limited to maple, with the family also selling assorted vegetables at the Brooke County Farmers’ Market in summer.

Kaili Ridgely of Wellsburg said she likes to purchase the farm’s products “because I try to eat healthy and I like knowing what I’m getting.”

To coincide with West Virginia Maple Days, Brooke Hills Park held a pancake breakfast Saturday with Family Roots Farm’s maple syrup and a winter market with local vendors offering homemade products.

The Barn With Inn, a nearby bed and breakfast on a working farm, offered a discount to its lodgers for the weekend.

Maple Days includes events throughout the state, including Oglebay Park’s annual Maple Sugaring Day, to be held Saturday.

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