GLENVILLE, N.Y. — At Riverside Maple Farms, there’s no such thing as a spectator.
Man or woman, it’s all hands on deck, from setting taps and stringing tubes to greeting customers at the firm’s gleaming new 5,300-square-foot operation on Route 5, a busy four-lane state highway in Glenville, N.Y., about midway between Schenectady and Amsterdam in the lower Mohawk Valley.
“No one’s safe from any job here,” Erica Welch, said smiling. “We’re all utility infielders. No one does just one thing. Everybody does everything, especially from January to April.”
She co-owns the business, which celebrated its grand opening on Oct. 5, with her husband, Chris, and her sister, Emily Gierke.
Chris, a Glenville native, has been making maple with his father, Cal, for 30 years. But until now, it’s been strictly for family and friends, as they’ve collected sap the old-fashioned way with buckets.
As demand grew, Chris, Erica and Emily began thinking seriously about a full-fledged commercial operation, including a retail shop. About a year ago, they pulled the trigger on this new venture, and set about making things happen.
“All of our relatives and friends kept asking for syrup and asked us to start selling it,” Erica said. “There was never enough. I never had real maple syrup at home because we kept running out. So we started looking into building a sugarhouse and a larger facility to move into. That’s what led to this.”
However, they haven’t just stuck their toes in the water, to see whether they like it or not before deciding to move forward with a full-fledged enterprise. This ambitious threesome jumped right in with a well-designed facility that includes an inviting retail space, production area and commercial kitchen where value-added products such as creams, candies and granulated sugar are made.
“We spent a lot of time getting ready for this,” Chris said.
Retail shop shelves are lined with syrup in all size containers, including attractive glass bottles. Owners even made their own line of souvenir caps and shirts to choose from, with the Riverside Maple Farms logo, and patrons may pick up educational brochures about the industry and tips for cooking with maple as well.
While duties are shared all the way around, Gierke’s favorite job is greeting customers, and giving them ideas for using maple in ways they never thought of.
“I love watching people’s eyes light up,” she said. “I tell them how to incorporate it into their home cooking, whether it’s through using maple granulated sugar, or how each of the different grades of syrup can be used. There’s so many cool ways to use maple. I’m a huge fan of maple spread.”
Erica and Chris, who met at Union College, both have careers in information technology. “We’re both very active and we love being outdoors,” Erica said.
So the maple business, although dependent on modern technology, is a complete switch from their “9-to-5” daily lives.
“It about having roots in the community,” Erica said. “That’s important to us. We have day jobs that aren’t local, so we want something that roots us here and puts us in the community. And we love being able to make and see something at the end of the day that wasn’t there before. Who doesn’t love being out in the woods, boiling and making wonderful maple sugar?”
The new facility was partially funded by a town government local economic development entity, and the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority whose mission is creating jobs and expanding the sales and property tax base, with a focus on key commercial corridors. Riverside Maple Farms is located at 7152 Amsterdam Road (Route 5) almost next door to Wolf Hollow Brewing Company.
“Riverside Maple Farms is a perfect fit in what is becoming a growing agritourism destination corridor in our town,” Glenville Supervisor Chris Koetzle said.
Peter Bednarek, Wolf Hollow Brewing co-owner, has welcomed his new neighbors with open arms. “My partners and I are excited to have another craft business in the area that will offer a unique experience for our community and those that travel here. Erica, Chris and Emily have put a tremendous amount of effort and energy into the sugarhouse, which is going to be a perfect addition to Glenville and Schenectady County.”
The business, housed in a handsome new red building, sits atop a slope overlooking the Mohawk River. Visitors, for good reason, think that’s how Riverside Maple Farms got its name.
“Actually, there’s an inside story to it,” Chris Welch said. “The house I grew up in, where my father and I made maple, is on Riverside Avenue in Glenville. That’s how this place really got its name.”
During tours, people may see the tiny antique stove Chris and his father used. Sap was boiled in a metal pan put together from an old countertop.
At present, Riverside Maple taps just over 1,000 trees in a sugarbush behind the new facility, plus another 2,000 trees about five miles away where the Welches own 230 acres. So they hope to at least double production over the next few years.
Last spring they made about 1,000 gallons of syrup to prepare for this fall’s grand opening.
“We love the maple community and are excited to be a part of it,” Chris said. “What a wonderful group of people.”
Erica credited Helen Thomas, New York Maple Producers Association executive director, and others in the industry for providing invaluable advice and information to help Riverside Maple Farms get off the ground. “Everyone was very gracious about letting us see their operations, telling us what they like and how they’d do things differently,” Erica said. “We came up with the design for this facility by touring and working with other sugarmakers.”
The grand opening was strategically timed right before the busy Columbus Day Weekend, when countless leaf-peepers were out and about in upstate New York. The owners are counting on the upcoming holiday season to generate significant business as well.
Currently, hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday to Sunday. Riverside Maple has already hosted group visits by Cornell Cooperative Extension master gardeners and a school robotics class. Kids are going to make maple equipment with Legos.
“I really enjoy bringing people in and showing them what we love to do,” Gierke said. “It’s not coming to work. It’s sharing with the community what we happen to do for work, but more so what we love and the joy it brings.”