The weather may be cold, but maple trees love it, and tourists and locals will get a chance to sample locally produced maple syrup this Saturday at Craft’s Colly.
This will be the second annual Kentucky Maple Day, put on by the University of Kentucky Extension Service and the Kentucky Maple Syrup Association. It’s a chance to showcase a budding agricultural industry to potential farms, consumers, and tourists.
The event here will be held at Southdown Farms, three miles up Craft’s Colly, just outside Whitesburg. Seth and Sheryl Long run the farm and produce different agricultural products throughout the year. But while most of their crops require warm weather and sunshine, maple syrup requires cold snaps and brief thaws. That repeated cycle of cold and warm gets the sap up, and Seth and Sheryl Long get the sap out by means of a web of blue hoses that run off the mountain side behind their home.
Seth Long is president of the Kentucky Maple Syrup Association, and he said the annual Maple Day is a way not only to sell syrup, but to bring in tourists and sell other local residents on the idea of tapping into a few trees themselves.
“If you look at an area centered on Floyd County and six counties around it, there are 6.9 million maple trees large enough and ready to tap today,” Seth Long said. “There are 59 million in the state ready to tap.”
The Longs have 330 trees tapped on their 50-acre farm, which is mostly hillside. So far, those trees have produced 1,500 gallons of sap since January 15. The Longs will evaporate most of the water for 8-ounce bottles of syrup, and will evaporate all of the water from some of the sap to make maple sugar. Everything is done by hand — tapping the trees, stringing the tubing, keeping the wood fire going for the evaporator and bottling and labeling the bottles.
“It’s not for everyone. It’s real work, it’s farm work, but for the right people, it’s a good opportunity,” Seth Long said.
People who visit the farm between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday will be able to take a hike through the maple woods to see how the trees are tapped and how the syrup is collected. They can watch the syrup being made, and buy maple-bacon doughnuts, maple syrup, maple sugar, and other products.
Long said two other farms are holding events in Pike County, and another in Johnson County, so tourists can make a day of it and see several operations. Last year, Southdown had about 100 visitors, including people from Big Stone Gap, Va., Manchester, and Richmond, Kentucky, in addition to locals. This year, he hopes there will be even more.
Most people are familiar with Vermont maple syrup, and Long said much of the syrup found in big box stores is from Quebec, Canada. Kentucky is on the southern edge of the area where maple trees will grow and produce syrup, but Long said what it does produce is very good. Asked how it compares to the syrup from the north, Long laughed.
“Oh, it’s better,” he said slyly. “I’m a little bit biased there.”