Somerset County maple growers celebrate the harvest at a banquet

The Somerset County Maple Growers Association celebrated the end of the maple harvest at their annual meeting and banquet held at the Kingwood Church of God Fellowship Center in Upper Turkeyfoot Township on June 25 .

Everett Sechler, president of the association, welcomed the group and said that after such a busy season, it was good to sit down and relax with friends.

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“We were lucky to have a good group of administrators,” Sechler said. “They are dedicated to promoting maple and we all work well together.

“Prior to the meeting, several growers participated in a seminar given by Les Ober, a maple specialist from Ohio State Extension, and Mike Rechlin from Future University in Egypt, who spoke about “Improving the quality of maple syrup and the identification of undesirable flavors in maple”.

During the meeting, Kyle Hillegas, Cindy Newman and Everett Sechler were elected to three vacant positions on the Board of Directors for three-year terms.

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Lynette Ely, Secretary, read the minutes from the previous meeting, while Kyle Hillegas, Treasurer, reported. Mike Lynch spoke about the Spring Maple Tour and Mary Friedline spoke about this year’s activities, such as the Somerset County Fair booth, Mountain Craft Days, Pennsylvania Farm Show, and Pennsylvania Maple Festival.

Ella Wheeler, Pennsylvania Maple Queen LXXV, spoke at the banquet and thanked the producers for the opportunity to represent the industry. She says she visits elementary schools, writes a children’s book on maple syrup, and does other events. Lydia Renzi and Kylie Sipple, Princesses of Maple, were featured as winners of the Maple Wisdom Award.

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Maple Festival Director and Maple Producer Melissa Friend Blocher shared that the 2022 Maple Festival, which again took place a month later for the second year in a row, turned out to be a well-attended event for the 75th annual celebration.

“Few festivals can say they’ve been around 75 times,” she said. “The Somerset County Fair tops that number here locally and we’re about four years ahead of Jubilee. It’s a long-running festival in our area and it was nice to see the anniversary celebrated.”

She explained that the festival has around 10,000 people coming through the gate of Maple Festival Park, but the day of the parade, the second Saturday, usually has the biggest crowds and not everyone comes to the park. that day, so the number of spectators is probably much higher.

“What we’ve noticed is people are spending a little less because I guess they’re tightening their wallets in the current economy,” she said. “The festival has installed a new showcase for producers and there were eight producers in the competition this year. We encourage more producers to enter as it is a great way to get your name out there. to the 10 categories in the contest, but when visitors see your name in the storefront, it makes a difference.”

Jason Blocher received the Pennsylvania Maple King Award at the banquet with his wife, Melissa Friend Blocher. The award was presented by the Somerset Rotary Club, represented by Harold Shaulis. It was Blocher’s third time as king of maple, his last titles having been won in 2016 and 2018.

Jason and his wife, Melissa Friend, own and operate the generational sugar bush camp at Milroy Farms in Elk Lick Township.

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Jason Blocher’s father, the late Gary Blocher, who died in 2017, was Maple King six times between 1986 and 2000. Gary was a past president of the Somerset County Maple Producers and a spokesperson in many ways for the local maple industry. Jason’s mother, Frances, who died in November 2012, ran the kitchen year-round and filled orders for syrup, candy, soft cream, spread, powdered sugar and taffy.

Jason and his wife, Melissa, and their team of helpers have stayed the course by making syrup and other products from their 17,000 taps each year.

“Masking used to be a secondary income on the farm, but now it’s our main source of income,” Jason said in an earlier interview. “Maple has been good for this family over the years and that’s why we’ve focused all our efforts on it.”

Baer Brothers Maple in Somerset Township, owned by Mike and Sherry Lynch (pictured), has been awarded the Champion Syrup award by PNC Bank, presented here by Mary Lynch Friedline.  This is the first time they have received this award.

In a bittersweet moment, Baer Brothers Maple of Somerset Township received the 2022 Champion Syrup award from PNC Bank, represented by Mary Lynch Friedline. Maple producer Joel Friedline died in an accident on his farm on July 24 last year shortly after receiving the Champion Syrup award in April. He was part of a family operation with his wife, Mary, his brother, Jon, and his parents, Lowell and Carna Friedline, on the family dairy farm in Jenner Township.

“We are honored to follow in the footsteps of Joel Friedline, who won the Champion Syrup Award last year and often brought that honor back to Walnutdale Maple on multiple occasions,” Mike Lynch said in a previous interview. “Our son Reagan wanted to enter the contest and we are happy to have been chosen for Champion Syrup.”

The Lynch family started their sugar camp in 2009 along Sugar Cake Road in Somerset Township, and former owner George Baer, ​​now 80, always returns to be a part of the season.

Baer Brothers Maple Camp was on the Baer farm in the early 1900s as a source of syrup for personal consumption and for trade. In 1971 the camp began to grow into what it is today under the ownership of George and Bonnie Baer and their family.

Today they produce around 2,000 gallons of maple syrup in a good season out of 5,000 taps, but although the process has remained the same since the early years, technology has revolutionized the business.

In addition to maple production, Lynch operates a cow-calf operation and is the Southern US Manager for CDL USA, traveling frequently throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana. to set up CDL intelligence systems. As part of his job at CDL USA, he sells and maintains Smart Maple Production Network (CDL Intelligence) for other maple producers.

The maple syrup producers’ banquet evening ended with door prizes and photographs of the winners.

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