by Kara Lynn Dunn
Maple season is just the start of the farming and fun found at the 220-acre Massey Ranch, located 17.5 miles west of the city limits at 20605 Combs Rd., Watertown, NY.
Farmers/owners Shawn and Meghan Massey love to welcome visitors to the farm. They are currently preparing for the 2020 Maple Weekends open house excitement with a From Our Ranch to Your Table Fresh and Sweet theme for their tours and tastings. On a 60º day at the ranch, Shawn and his crew of helpers were processing a huge sap run and expected to be boiling all day and into the night.
The Masseys purchased the land in 2009, built a house and began converting the property into a diversified family farm. Their first enterprises were U-pick pumpkins and hay production for local horse farms. They also raise honey from their own bees and grow grapes and berries. The maple syrup operation was added in 2012.
“For maple, we started with 200 taps. The next year we put in 500 taps, then 1,000, all collected in buckets,” Meghan said. “Amish farmers collected the sap with horse-drawn teams and brought it to us at the sugarhouse.”
“We went to tubing in 2019 and this year we have 2,500 taps,” said Shawn, whose dad tapped trees and boiled sap into syrup in a turkey fryer.
Sap boiling takes place in the farm’s 12×20 sugarhouse. Throughout the two Maple Weekends, Shawn will be talking with visitors around the wood-fired evaporator. The production system at the farm includes reverse osmosis, a sap pre-heater and a filter press.
“The pre-heater and filter press are optional but they help to make us more efficient and the filter press gives us crystal clear syrup,” Shawn explained.
To show visitors how maple seasons fluctuate, Shawn keeps his daily boiling samples in small jars on shelves by a window near the evaporator. The jars for 2016 reach only halfway across the window, while the jars for 2017 take up a row and more.
“We made the same amount of syrup those two years but in 2016 we had fewer but more sap-per-day runs than we did in 2017,” Shawn explained.
Syrup is packaged in glass, tin and plastic in various sizes, including “sample” sizes sold to a nearby hotel restaurant that serves the small bottles with breakfast. Throughout Maple Weekend days, warm syrup samples will be available for tasting.
The Masseys also make their own 100% pure maple confections.
Maple Weekend visitors will enjoy free hayrides on the farm, find four miniature donkeys to pet and Massey Ranch maple syrup, maple cream, molded maple sugarcakes and granulated maple sugar, plus maple tea, maple-flavored barbecue and hot sauces and Massey Ranch Honey for sale in the farm’s combined sugarhouse and sales cottage. Shawn and Meghan’s daughter Marissa often serves as cashier. Their son Hudson helps empty sap from the 100 taps still on buckets and collected each night.
“We sell products year-round, but for Maple Weekends we also have maple donuts from a local bakery for sale, maple cotton candy and don’t miss the chocolate-maple cream!” Meghan added.
The farm is an easy five-minute drive from Fort Drum and a popular destination for military families.
“Our focus has been on creating a year-round destination for local families and for our Fort Drum military personnel as a way to give back to our community and to service members,” said Shawn.
He enjoys educating people who have never experienced maple before. “I show them how the sap comes into the evaporator and people are always amazed that we do not do anything to any of our 100% pure maple products,” he said.
He described his process as a way to make a “craft maple syrup just as people make craft beer. We use a process that may be a little more traditional with the wood-fired evaporator and we take a little more time so when people taste how smooth our syrup is on the tongue we get that ‘wow’ response.”
While Shawn and a team of family and friends are boiling, Meghan is posting to Facebook, packaging products and handling calls and customers. The Masseys frequently welcome school and daycare groups and homeschoolers, and have hosted team-building groups.
“We have met some amazing people and have a loyal following, especially with families stationed at Fort Drum who love to visit the farm and after they have moved to a different duty station they still order maple from us,” Meghan said, noting that Massey Ranch ships its products free all year.
Shawn has helped promote maple throughout the North Country region, serving as an officer, and currently treasurer, for the Lewis County Maple Producers Association with members from several counties. Massey Ranch is located in Jefferson County.
“It takes a team to make syrup. The technology helps a lot, but making syrup still takes a lot of manpower and we are thankful to have family and friends who help,” he added, “and our producers’ association is like a family as well. This spring we needed a part and called a member over in Lewis County who had what we needed; a week later another member called and we had an extra filter press pump that was just what he needed.”
Once sap-boiling season is complete, the Masseys will turn their sights on summer hay production. Their storage barn can hold up to 10,000 bales. If the weather cooperates, their five-acre patch of multi-colored, multi-sized pumpkins will be ready for U-pick visitors in September. The harvest season experience at the farm also includes free wagon rides and gourds and Indian corn for sale. As year-end approaches, Meghan assembles gift baskets for the holiday season.
Visit their website at www.masseysranch.com.