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April 19, 2013

Family makes liquid amber in Kempton

Gerigs tap maple grove for syrup harvest

KEMPTON — Surrounded by a grove of sugar maples planted decades ago, it might seem natural that the Gerig family of Kempton went into maple syrup production.

But it was the entrepreneurial spirit of the youngest Gerig, daughter Abby, 14, that pushed her parents into tapping trees.

Abby’s mother, Andrea, said it all started with “Market Master Mandy” — Kokomo Farmer’s Market director Mandy Wright-Jarrett —

taking Abby on trips to the market to sell some of the girl’s crafts.

“We had been doing beekeeping, and we thought, well, we’ve got some honey,” Andrea said. “So we sent some on to the market with Abby, and it sold like crazy. The next year, we had our own tent.”

Farmer’s market-goers have been familiar with Dragonwood (the Gerig business name) for a few years.

But Saturday will be the first time Dragonwood maple syrup is available at the Saturday market, which has moved to a new location at the corner of Mulberry and Washington streets.

After selling honey for a few years (and they still sell lots of honey), the Gerigs felt confident enough to

invest in maple syrup production, which wasn’t an easy decision, according to Andrea.

It was made easier when the adjoining property, which included a pole barn, became available. They went ahead and bought all the taps, bags, and sundry equipment they’d need, along with a wood-burning evaporator which can boil down 100 gallons of sap every hour.

“We’ve got 50 acres and it’s mostly wooded, and the woods were tapped before, because when we bought it we were told it was a sugaring woods,” Andrea said. “It’s very beautiful, just golden with all the maple leaves in the fall.”

Despite knowing what they had, it wasn’t until Abby was 11 that the idea of making maple syrup really took hold.

“She started making fairy dolls, just as a creative, crafty thing, and like any girl that age, she wanted to get them out to the whole world. So when Mandy decided to have a table at the market, she and Abby had a business meeting,” Andrea recalled.

Making maple syrup proved a bit tougher than arts and crafts, however, and Mike Gerig said the initial investment was easily more than $10,000.

Then there’s the physical labor involved: driving in close to 400 taps, 2 inches deep into the trees, and then collecting bag after bag of sap when the temperature is hovering around freezing.

But what they harvested is mostly Grade A medium amber syrup, which according to Mike is a notch above the pure maple syrup found at the regular grocer.

They’ll be selling it in jugs and in glass bottles; pints, quarts, half-gallons and gallons will be available at the market, priced at $25 a quart with price discounts as volume increases, Mike said. Andrea set some aside in classic glass “handle bottles,” which will be $8 for 8.45 ounces and $10 for 12 ounces. Display-quality glass bottles of syrup in maple leaf and etched marasca shapes will be $20 each.

Interestingly, the syrup processed at the start of the harvest season is lighter in color and has a lighter flavor than syrup processed later in the season, she added.

And the Gerigs are proud to represent an industry that isn’t really associated with Indiana, but with Canada and the northeastern U.S.

Mike pointed out one assessment from an association of Indiana producers found at www.indianamaplesyrup.org.

“Though Indiana has an active maple syrup industry, Hoosier production is considered too small to be included in the federal agricultural survey,” it reads.

The Gerigs, and their Tipton County grove, are doing their best to change that.

Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com.

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