HYNDMAN, Penn.—After seven years, the reign comes to an end.
Matt Emerick, 35, of Hyndman, Pa., in Somerset County wrapped up his seventh term as Pa. Maple King in March.
His father, Ed Emerick, held the title four times so their camp, Emerick's Pure Maple Products at 180 Ridge Rd. in Southampton Township, has won a total of 11 times. But, the accolades don't stop there.
Champion syrup through the festival contest came in 1989, 1993, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2016 and 2018.
In Somerset County, Pa., the largest maple syrup producing county in Pennsylvania, a contest for Pa. Maple King has been held during the Pa. Maple Festival in Meyersdale for decades.
While the Pa. Maple Queen is selected through a talent and interview contest of several young women who are high school seniors from Somerset County, Maple King contestants first enter a judging of syrup, cremes and candy in order to earn the title.
The 71st Pa. Maple Festival was held mid-March in Meyersdale, Pa. The Maple King is chosen on the Friday before the festival begins. Maple King has the honor of escorting the queen at next year's queen's contest and also taps the first tree at the annual Tree Tapping ceremony held next February. This year's judge Dr. Robert Hansen of Bradford County, Pa., who was a former Penn State Cooperative Extension agent, chose Jason Blocher of Milroy Farms in Salisbury, Pa., as the 2018-2019 Pa. Maple King.
"It is always an honor to serve as Pa. Maple King," explained Matt Emerick, who was the youngest king ever at 16 years old in 1997. "The title comes from a stiff competition among Somerset County maple producers who are each deserving in their own rite so to win that title is actually a humbling experience because there are many good camps."
The Emerick family's camp is located on a picturesque mountain closer to Cumberland, Md., but still in Somerset County on the border of Somerset and Bedford counties. There are a few maple producers on that particular mountain and Matt's father, Ed Emerick, who began making maple syrup decades ago, first won Pa. Maple King in 1990 and brought the camp into a modern age with tubing, reverse osmosis and new equipment.
In recent years, Ed Emerick handed over the camp to Matt and his wife, Stephanie, and four children, Tyler, 9, twins Daniel and Sarah, 8, and Kailee, 7. Ed may be retired from CSX Railroad in Cumberland, Md., but he can still be found very active in the camp, checking on tanks and tubing regularly.
Matt explained that the original camp began with his great-grandfather, Clarence Emerick, who wanted one of his children to produce maple syrup. That one child was Vernon Troutman, Matt's great uncle who learned the process but had four daughters not willing to take over the business. That's when nephew Ed Emerick got interested in his Uncle Vernon's camp when he was a teenager. In 1976, Ed and his late wife, the former Wilma Shipley, who died in 2009, purchased the equipment and began making syrup.
"Making maple syrup and being in our family's camp was something I did every spring ever since I can remember. I wouldn't know any other way," said Matt, who, like his father, works full-time for CSX Railroad in Cumberland, Md., while wife Stephanie is also very active with the business and homeschools their four children.
That's where the next generation comes into play. These four children are much like their father and grandfather in generations past and are the fifth generation to bring laughter and learning to the whole maple syrup making process on that mountain.
"The children are a part of this business in every way possible," explained Stephanie Emerick. "Our oldest, Tyler, 9, has been learning how to boil this season. Everyone helps out from fixing tubing in the woodlot to labeling to bagging and you name it. It is definitely a family affair for the Emericks."
Conveniently located, the Emericks have 5,000 taps on tubing all within about a mile from camp. Of course, on that mountain, they maintain vacuum pumps and a reverse osmosis machine. They sell their own syrup and purchase syrup wholesale from other camps as well.
While former generations improved production and equipment, Matt brought a sense of marketing into the midst of business tenure so far. Emerick's sell to Sysco foods in Harrisburg, Giant Eagles in the Market District of Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania General Store and Common Market, both in Philadelphia, and several institutions, such as Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md.
Just recently, camera crews from the Pa. Department of Agriculture and the Pa. Department of Community and Economic Development visited the camp to produce an online video about the maple industry. It is available for viewing at www.visitpa.com
and both Matt and Stephanie are interviewed with several aspects of the camp featured.
"We have worked hard to produce award-winning syrup and when we buy from other producers, we know what good syrup is all about," concluded Matt. "We look at maple syrup as a commodity like any other agricultural product. To us, it is no different than a field of corn. Harvest comes in the spring and we are reliant on the weather but we try to make sure our cash crop has the best advantage on the market."