Forty-three years ago, brothers Randy and Patrick Galusha discovered a handful of galvanized maple spouts while exploring a barn on the family property in Athol, New York. The taps brought back memories of their grandmother’s efforts to bore holes into maple trees to place taps, collect sap and boil it to make maple syrup.
“We got the idea to tap trees with the spouts we found and to use coffee cans to collect sap,” Randy reminisced. “Our dad and one of his friends came home about the time we were getting started. They felt bad for us and helped us out.”
That first spring, their father, Jim, borrowed a friend’s 2-by-3-foot wood-fired pan and supervised while the boys boiled sap into syrup.
That was 1971, and what no one in the Galusha family could have predicted was that they would become the largest maple producer in Warren County, New York.
For the decade that followed, the Galusha family snowshoed into the family-owned Adirondack forestland. Little by little the number of taps increased. “At one time we had as many as 500 buckets hung that we collected,” Randy noted. Some of the sap was collected with a team of horses and a tank affixed to the deck of an old sled, while other buckets were reached with an old truck or tractor.
By the early 1980s, Randy and his high school sweetheart, Jill, headed off to Clarkson University. Randy earned a degree in environmental engineering and Jill got her degree to become a physician’s assistant. But their life plan included a return to the maple business.
That time was busy at Toad Hill Maple Farm. Patrick opted out of the business, so their parents, Jim and Norma Galusha, stepped in to keep the young business going while Randy was at school.
The family also built their first sugarhouse – a stick-built structure complete with a cupola – on the property at this time. Friends and neighbors pitched in to see the project through to completion. “It was our first real sugaring project,” Randy said.
Steady expansion eventually brought Toad Hill Maple up to a total of 4,000 taps. “We had three sugar bushes,” he explained. One sugar bush was leased, another family-owned sugar bush supported 2,000 taps, and the remainder of the taps were placed on farmland near the homestead.
A severe ice storm crippled the sugar bush that supported 2,000 taps. “It was devastated and we decided to sell the land,” Randy said. Although, he added, “the current landowner collects sap and sells it to us.” Around the same time, the family terminated the lease on the rented property, reducing the farm’s capacity.
Today, the family places approximately 1,500 taps with plans to increase to 5,000. Randy and Jill both still work full time. Randy is an environmental engineer for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), while Jill continues her work as a physician’s assistant. “We plan on retiring within the next year and a half, and then transition into sugaring full time,” he added.
With their sights set on increasing production, the Galushas are committed to incorporating energy-efficient and more modern equipment to process the sap. The galvanized spouts and buckets have been replaced with a vacuum tubing system, and they use small-diameter spouts with check valves, which prevent sap from reversing course back to the taphole.
Looking to upgrade and improve efficiency, they applied for and were awarded a grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). With the REAP monies they purchased a reverse osmosis (RO) machine. The concentrate that comes out of the RO contains all of the sugar from the raw sap and is about 10 to 20 percent of the original volume, saving time and energy.
Depending on a variety of factors, the Galushas’ system can convert approximately 1,000 gallons of sap into 25 gallons of syrup each hour. It’s not uncommon for them to boil more than 5,000 gallons of sap to produce 150-plus gallons of syrup on a day when the sap runs well.
A Steam-Away was added to the evaporator and recycles the steam to preheat incoming sap, thus reducing the amount of fuel burned. Fans blow air through the sap in the Steam-Away to induce more evaporation. An all-digital system regulates the flow of sap through the evaporator and draws off the finished syrup at the optimum density.
While the Galushas were upgrading their equipment, they also built a 64-by-56-foot sugarhouse. “It [the REAP grant] allowed us to move our operation to another level and set up the business for future expansion plans,” Randy explained. “It was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”
Although Randy’s love for maple sugaring ignited the moment he and his brother found the galvanized spouts, he has remained as passionate for the business today as he was then. “I call it an addiction,” he laughed, “I loved it right from when we first got involved and have always had a consistent desire to improve our process, our production and our products.”
That obsession extends beyond the production of maple products. Raised in a family of loggers, Randy also has a love for the land and strives to improve the sustainability of his 853 acres of Adirondack forestland. “I like improving our timber stand and sugar bush,” he stated. “We have improved the drainage and road system on the land since we acquired it, and we’re actively thinning dead or unhealthy trees.”
With an interest in long-term improvement of his land, Randy closely follows a professionally developed forest management plan that increases the potential production of both the maple and timber products. He follows the plan precisely to support his business, but also to preserve the land he and Jill hold in trust for their children, Nathan and Lindsey.
To learn more about Toad Hill Farm, visit http://www.toadhillmaple.com.