A Sweet Family Tradition: Leon and Joyce Ripley Discuss Maple Corner Farm, Farm Bureau
Located in Granville, Massachusetts, at the foothills of the Berkshires, sits Maple Corner Farm. The maple, hay and blueberry operation has been in the Ripley family since 1812 and is now currently owned by Joyce and Leon Ripley and their sons and their families. Leon is very proud of the farm’s rich history.
“We’ve been farming here since 1812,” he said. “The upper sugar house was first built in 1835 and my great-great-grandfather sugared there with iron kettles and stone arches and a flat pan. In 1935 they built the lower sugar house and I sugared there when I was about 8 years old with my dad. We still had some stone arches with a flat pan and a small evaporator. It was quite different than the modern technology of today.”
The family recently built a brand-new sugarhouse and currently is in their second year of utilizing it.
“We tap about 4,500 taps, all on pipeline,” Leon said. “And we have five vacuum pumps with five different locations. We gather on average between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons of sap per day when the sap runs well.”
This years hasn’t been typical, he said. “We started Feb. 5 and made our first batch of syrup on Feb. 11,” Leon said. “It’s been up and down with changing temperatures. We made a lot of syrup in February and then it got very cold with big snow storms in March and it was shut down for almost 2-3 weeks. We went back to making syrup again the last part of March; April 13 was our last day of making maple syrup this year.”
He estimates they collected 60,000 to 70,000 gallons of sap this year, which will be made into syrup and then some into candies, creams and other value-added products.
“I take the maple syrup once it’s made and make it into maple candy, maple cream, and maple granulated,” Joyce explained. “These are all items that I use machines in the process room to make. That keeps me busy a good portion of the year.”
Leon also said that their son’s wife, Jess, helps to make specialty food products and markets their products at four local farmers markets. Additionally, the operation has an agritourism side and during the winter months, they do cross country skiing and snowshoeing. They also allow school groups to tour the farm and have a museum set up, where Joyce educates groups on the traditions of maple sugaring.
“We have articles here that were used by the family in 1812 when they first started maple sugaring,” Joyce said. “The family came from Hartford, Connecticut, and they started maple sugaring in the woods. A lot of the artifacts were still here, on the farm, so I put them together to make a small museum.”
She also said that many school groups come to their farm to learn about maple sugaring, how it started with Natives, all the way through today with modern technology. This type of community outreach is something that Joyce was able to bring to her past position of chair of Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation’s (MFBF’s) womens committee.
“We had a very good committee,” she said. “I went to national meetings and realized that some of the other states had very large women’s committees compared to ours. But it was a very good experience with the camaraderie, sharing of ideas and everyone willing to help someone else.”
Leon also serves on MFBF’s Board of Directors as the Hampden County representative and both Leon and Joyce have held leadership roles in Hampden County Farm Bureau.
“I feel that Farm Bureau represents the farms in Massachusetts better than any other organization,” Leon said. “We actually have a very active legislative lobbyist, Brad Mitchell, and he’s done a great job representing us the last couple years and I think that the Farm Bureau also represents us at the bargaining table.”
Leon also cited that MFBF created Chapter 61 and 61A, which allows farms to pay taxes on their land at an agricultural value. According to him, “Most farmers couldn’t afford to own their property, if we didn’t have the reduced tax rate.” It is important to note that farmers pay a rollback tax if the land use changes.
“We are also in the thick of things with the agricultural preservation restriction (APR) committee,” Leon said. “We’ve been working to change the regulations over the last 10-15 years. They’ve got a great program and I think that a few things need to be changed to make it even better; which we have been trying to do that over the last several years.”
Leon also complimented MDAR for its support of Massachusetts agriculture, and he has even been able to utilize a farm viability grant from the department for a new building on his farm. He also has secured energy grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA).
“One of the reasons we built this new sugarhouse was to meet the new Food Safety Act regulations,” Leon said. “These are going to affect basically all of agriculture production in Massachusetts.”
Despite their ongoing concerns about regulations, Maple Corner Farm already is working on succession planning as Leon and Joyce’s sons, David, John and Matt, have been assisting on the farm. In fact, according to Leon, they helped construct the new boiler building in between their off-farm jobs.
“It took us almost two years to get it finished, since they all work off the farm for some part of the year,” Leon said. “However, they are all here during the sugaring season.”
While the sugaring season for 2018 has ended, in the summertime Maple Corner Farm does pick your own blueberries and sells hay bales right out of the field. For more information about Maple Corner Farm, please visit www.maplecornerfarm.com.