Tag Archives: ohio

Ohio and West Virginia Maple Syrup Producers urged by State Organizations, Researchers to submit Annual Numbers for better estimates

By Luke Furman

Maple syrup researchers in Appalachia find themselves in a sticky situation when it comes to determining accurate figures of each year’s sugary harvest.

As much as 50 percent of Ohio’s maple syrup is produced by the Amish, and they typically do not submit harvest data to the government, said Les Ober, a program director at Ohio State University Extension and maple syrup specialist.

But in addition to the Amish, many of Ohio’s maple syrup producers do not participate in the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s survey every five years, nor any independent or local inquiries. The only state that requires farmers to submit their crop records to NASS is Wisconsin. In 2017, Wisconsin produced 200,000 gallons of maple syrup, according to NASS.

The lack of data from maple syrup producers makes it difficult for states such as Ohio to fully promote the product. That is far different from Quebec, Canada, which produces roughly 70 percent of the world’s maple syrup. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers keeps much closer tabs on producers during the harvesting season, inquiring and estimating 11,200,000 gallons of maple syrup in 2017.

Sara Bouvin, a spokesperson for the Federation, said the organization sends out a survey every week to producers who have agreed to fill it out and send it back. Then, a survey at the end of the season reaches 1,000 producers, who have also agreed to fill it out. The Federation then makes estimates from the data.

“There’s always some resistance,” Bouvin said. “With the surveys, we try to reach the same producers each week. Everyone is interested in knowing how much maple syrup there will be.”

Coupled with the lack of voluntary survey participation, many maple syrup producers in Ohio produce no other agricultural products, so they might not even be included on the USDA’s mailing list.

“Some producers say they never got the survey in the mail, so there’s blame on both sides,” Ober said.

In the past five years, the uncertainty of how many producers and how many trees they tapped have led to unreliable and inconsistent estimates of how many gallons of syrup are produced each year.

In 2013, the USDA estimated that Ohio produced 155,000 gallons of maple syrup. In 2016, it estimated only 70,000 gallons. However, experts suggest the number of trees being tapped each year in Ohio is fairly constant at 400,000. The USDA estimates might not indicate a drop in production, merely a drop in reporting. But those lower figures can reduce the amount of grant funding allotted to Ohio’s maple syrup industry.

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Dan Brown, the president of the Ohio Maple Producer Association, points to unaccounted producers for causing volatility in reported production data as opposed to changes in the climate or any other factor. He said that every two years in a decade, a warm winter such as the 2016-2017 season will occur, but that’s nothing new or troublesome to seasoned producers.

“Since maple syrup depends more on weather patterns than global temperature, climate change has not had an effect on it,” Brown said

The traditional method of collecting sap requires producers to drill a hole into a maple tree and insert a spile, or hollow tube, that redirects the flow of sap out of the tree. With a vacuum tubing system, producers can expedite the process and produce 10 times the amount of syrup per acre, according to the University of Vermont. With the vacuum tubing system, warm winters now pose little threat of crop loss to Ohio producers.

“Many producers now use a vacuum tubing system, which allows them to get a good crop no matter what the temperature,” Brown said.

In Ohio, the “Maple Belt” runs from Ashtabula County in the northeast, passes though the east-central part of the state and ends at the southwestern border with Kentucky. Ober said producers harvested at least two-thirds of their sap this past year and some farmers even collected a full season’s worth of sap. But, without better reporting from producers, Ober and other industry experts are limited in how they can help — or promote — Ohio’s maple syrup industry.

Brown views the mystery surrounding how much maple syrup Ohio produces each year as a “negative.” He said that one focus of the OMPA is to promote maple syrup and educate those interested in tapping trees. But when maple syrup producers do not report their annual yields, it becomes difficult for the OMPA to promote the industry.

“We don’t have a real handle on how big our industry is,” Brown said. “Many producers sell by the jug instead of selling in bulk, which is difficult to track. It’s a person-to-person exchange.”

Gary Graham, a researcher at Ohio State University Extension specializing in maple syrup, said if Ohio implemented mandatory record keeping like Wisconsin, then the gallons of maple syrup recorded would be “astronomical.”

“It’s an estimate right now and to require knowing who is out there would be helpful. With price trends, getting accurate marks on any kind of data is hard,” Graham said. “An unregistered producer might have 500 taps or 10,000 taps. Every state should have (Wisconsin’s law).”

A total of 70 out of 88 counties in Ohio produce maple syrup, Graham said. He speculated that many producers fail to submit their harvest because, “they think the IRS will be knocking at their doors for taxes.” However, in reality, a larger statewide crop would, in turn, lead to more funding from the federal government to the industry.

Ohio’s dilemma does not cease just southeast of the Ohio River.

Although West Virginia only recently reemerged as a maple syrup state, prompted by the closing of coal mines and factories, the mountainous terrain and high altitudes present an attractive opportunity for harvesting and profit. Experts compared West Virginia to the climates of Ohio and New York State with as many maple trees as Vermont, the nation’s leading producer of maple syrup.

During the harvesting season from January to April, the sap in maple trees freezes and thaws about 22 to 25 times in a good year. In West Virginia the cooler temperatures found up in the forested hills provide a perfect chance to collect maple syrup.

Mike Rechlin, a member of West Virginia’s Board of Directors of Maple Syrup and author of Maple Syrup: An Introduction to the Science of a Forest Treasure, said West Virginia has about as much of a handle on crop statistics as Ohio.

However, unlike Ohio, West Virginia’s Department of Agriculture has greatly promoted the intrastate maple syrup industry and has led a large push to promote West Virginia as a syrup-producing state.

“The department of agriculture has promoted maple syrup because they want people to be able to use and earn from the land,” Rechlin said. “What else can you do with mountains?”

Much like Dan Brown in Ohio, Mike Rechlin spends time educating Mountaineers on the practice of harvesting syrup from the plentiful maple trees.

“We specifically registered to be part of the NASS survey because we thought that would support the industry through grants from the state,” Rechlin said. “People in West Virginia are interested. There’s a learning curve and we are trying to bring knowledge to the people. West Virginia is land-rich but often poor. Anything we can do to help maple syrup production is good for the state.”

Regardless of state lines — or rivers — the maple syrup industry in Appalachia faces the obstacle of being unorganized and disordered.

Official records of sugaring in the Midwest date back to the first agricultural survey in 1840, when Ohio ranked as the leading producer of maple syrup in the nation of 26 states, according to the Ohio Maple Producers Association.

And although technological advances have reached the rural extremes of American homesteads, some experts like Gary Graham claim it will be “impossible” to ever record an accurate number of gallons produced in any maple syrup state other than Wisconsin.

But, if any change is to occur, the push for concise statistics will most likely come from organizations like the Ohio Maple Producers Association and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, who reach producers on a personal level and instill a sense of community and the responsibility of bookkeeping.

Graham concluded it would take significant effort by groups like the OMPA to raise awareness to reach the full span of Appalachian producers, who will continue to sugar on or off the record.

Photo illustration by Luke Furman with the help of Emily Matthews


Amplified Observations: Athens forms a musical experience unmatched by pre-college life


Living in Athens, Ohio, offers a formative musical experience largely unmatched by pre-college life.

You might have noticed the town and university both teem with melodies created by an abundance of means that work to engross its residents completely in musical attunement.

For many of us studying here, we’ve come from suburban environments, venturing to the closest city once in awhile but never long enough to become rooted into its heartbeat. Our high school peer groups consisted of fewer people and had fewer new ideas being thrown around. But from this sort of background or another, Athens only enhances a person’s appreciation for a musical environment.

Spending any amount of time in Athens leads to hearing sub-bass through dorm walls, bro-country down the street (accompanied with engine revving) or world music while walking along the bike path. Sometimes house parties blast music so loud the vibrations from the bass appear to cause disruption in the house’s material. I can’t imagine being the roommate upstairs trying to sleep.

Every now and then, the Marching 110 illuminates Peden Stadium, and piano keys echo through Baker Center’s central atrium.

Around the holidays, the streets of Athens are literally accompanied with Christmas music.

And for the rest of the year, there’s that small group of songs that house parties and bars always play like Travis Scott’s “Antidote,” Drake’s “Back to Back” and Kendrick Lamar’s “M.a.a.d City.” These songs play the traditional role of music in helping us to bond together as a common community. They soundtrack Friday and Saturday nights along with the ensembles of street musicians aligning Court Street.

Sometimes Athens’ sonic effects can be as simple as hearing two guitars peacefully harmonizing from an adjacent apartment.

There are also several great venues to catch live music in town like Casa Nueva, The Union Bar & Grill and Donkey Coffee and Espresso. Not to mention, Donkey Coffee plays a great selection of music itself. It might be the only place Uptown where you can hear Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” on a Saturday morning.

Haffa’s Records and Blue Eagle Music only add to the town’s versatility with LPs and instruments.

The number of people wearing headphones on and off campus shows, what is otherwise an invisible desire for music, floating above the seventh floor of Alden Library.

Whether student or parent, local or visitor, Athens invokes a sense of liveliness and rhythm that never seems to stop. It’s a town packed with ideas and cultures that influence our idea of daily life and how we live it. A significant part of that influence falls on the music we come across, on purpose or by accident.

Athens’ musicality might not be apparent at first. But with an ear to the air, you’re bound to hear something new.

Nelsonville to host and sponsor 20th Annual Ohio Smoked Meat & BBQ Fest


Barbecue competitors and connoisseurs will travel to Nelsonville this weekend to flood the streets with the aromas of slow-cooked pork, ribs, brisket and chicken. And that’s not to mention the sweet sauces and peppery rubs.

“When you get that many teams, cookers and smoke, it smells delicious,” John Gambill, a pitmaster of Historic BBQ based in Lebanon, said. “People say they smell it driving past Nelsonville.”

The Ohio Smoked Meat and Barbecue Festival will start at 8 a.m. Friday, when teams begin to set up, and will run until 3 p.m. Saturday, when the winners are presented with their awards on the main stage of Elks Lodge, according to the event’s website. Vendors will sell food after 5 p.m. Friday and after noon Saturday.

In its 20th year, 40 teams are scheduled to participate in several meat-specific competitions and the lauded “Grand Champion” title. The festival is among the bigger barbecue competitions in Ohio, Paul Grant of Slippery Pete’s BBQ from Wadsworth, said.

Hocking College and the Inn at Hocking College hosted the event for the first 11 years of its existence before the Nelsonville Area Chamber of Commerce took on the responsibility of organizing the event in 2008.

Last year, Historic BBQ picked up first place in the brisket competition. Gambill said the team likes to cook at low temperatures using smoke as a complementary flavor. Evoking natural flavors of meat, especially chicken, also garners them compliments from the public, Gambill said.

“The community supports the festival and does a good job of running it,” he said

Nelsonvilles’ Public Square and the surrounding pavement closed to traffic will serve as the location for the smoky gathering. There is no admission fee.

Grant said the competition draws talented and top teams from around the region and throughout the country.

“A lot of teams stay awake the entire night,” Grant said. “For an Ohio contest to be holding 40-plus teams is saying something.”

Gambill noted the atmosphere of the festival has shifted and refined over the years.

“There used to be a lot of people there for the party and only a few serious cookers and now there’s more serious cookers than partiers,” Gambill said. “It’s a tough weekend, and there are a lot of talented teams.”

He said the event acts as a precursor to the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational held in Lynchburg, Tennessee, on Oct. 22, and Nelsonville offers an opportunity to get one last cook in before an event of such magnitude.

The Ohio Smoked Meat & BBQ Festival is set to award $10,000 in prizes on Saturday to the top teams that reach the podium.

The festival is Kansas City Barbecue Society certified, and local reps will be in attendance.

Along with Gambill, Grant also praised the festival’s historic setup in town.

“Nelsonville is a great host and sponsor,” Grant said. “The organizers are some of the best around and a lot of people look forward to the competition.”

If You Go

What: Ohio Smoked Meat & BBQ Festival

When: Friday and Saturday

Where: Nelsonville Public Square

Admission: Free, food for sale

Ohio Supreme Court amends adult guardianship rules

I worked on this story for a while but I eventually finished it.


The Ohio Supreme Court moved last month to try to ensure a better quality of life for adults suffering from mental illness or who are unable to make sound decisions for themselves — a measure that has been hailed by at least one local disabilities expert.

The court amended state policy regarding adult guardianship cases on March 10, which made guidelines for family members acting as guardians, set in place training requirements for guardians and called for closer supervision of all guardians, according to an Ohio Supreme Court news release.

The amendment defines a ward as “any adult person found … to be incompetent and for whom a guardianship is established.”

Dennis Lehman, director of Service and Support Administration for the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said the new amendments could help guardians understand their roles and expectations.

“… In one particular case a guardian was a pastor and he superimposed his beliefs on his wards,” he said. “He would not allow them any Halloween decorations, or to have R-rated videos in the house, or anything like that. He did not consider what the individual wanted in that case.”

Lehman said training session might help guardians understand the wishes of their wards.

“Guardians are responsible for the decisions they make, but they should consider what their wards want,” he said.

During a nearly one-year period of discussion, the Ohio Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Children and Families successfully recommended three rule changes, which will take effect June 1.

According to the news release, the current changes include applying guardianship regulations to family members, requiring courts to monitor a roster of guardians with 10 or more wards and requiring guardians to meet with wards quarterly.

Michael Smalz, a member of the Advisory Committee on Children and Families, called the amendments “a significant step forward.” He added, though, that there is still need for improvement.

“Statutory changes are also needed,” Smalz said in an email. “A pending bill … contains some helpful provisions, including the creation of a ward’s bill of rights and a requirement that every ward be given a copy of the bill of rights.”

Maureen O’Connor, Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, said these new amendments meet the standards set by the National Guardianship Association.

“The ultimate goal is to provide our probate courts with effective means to ensure the safety and well being of people who need our protection,” O’Connor said in the news release.

One of the amendments also requires adult guardian to attend a minimum of six hours of training courses as well as a three-hour course every year.

According to the report, the course review establishing the guardianship, the ongoing duties and responsibilities of a guardian, record keeping and reporting duties of a guardian and any other topic that concerns improving the quality of the life of a ward.

“While I would like to have seen training and visitation requirements that were as rigorous as the national standards envision, these new mandates are a very positive step,” Julia R. Nack, a past president of the National Guardianship Association, said.

Nack is also a certified master guardian who helped to draft the current rules.

The training courses — provided by the Supreme Court of Ohio or any other approved entity — will be free of charge for a limited time, and will be made available online by the end of 2015. The yearly three-hour courses will begin in the first quarter of 2016.

“It is important now for Ohio lawmakers to take up the issue of guardianship and provide the courts with the statutory and financial support they need to make these changes effective,” Nack said.