Friday, July 7, 2017

Farmer Friday- The Orebed Sugar Shack

Maple syrup is a family tradition for Jeff and Lori Jenness, of The Orebed Sugar Shack, in DeKalb, New York, even the shack itself was built by the Jenness' themselves. 
For years, generations of family connected to the Jenness' would come together to help gather sap from buckets and assist with the production. However as the Jenness’ daughters, who were vital workers to production, began to approach college, it became apparent that the extra help needed to gather from the amount from trees tapped on their property would disappear. Faced to make a decision, to get smaller or grow bigger, the Jenness’ settled on the latter. This decision led to progression from the traditional sap buckets and instead focused on incorporating pipelines. Now there are over 20 miles of these lines webbing together all of the sap from the property, and transporting the liquid right outside of The Orebed Sugar Shack.  
             “We aren’t in it for the money,” Jeff explains amidst laughter. The more you want to get bigger and better, he explains, the more you are willing to spend money on it. “It’s a disease.”
            The Orebed Sugar Shack hosts a maple weekend twice a year where they encourage families to learn about each step that is involved in the creation of maple products. The maple weekends are free of charge and include horse drawn wagons, face paint, an opportunity to see maple syrup created the old fashioned way, coloring contests, chain saw carvings, and free samples. “We sugar everybody up,” explains Jeff. These events aim to teach the behind the scenes of maple production, every step from start to finish, and there is a clear emphasis on children’s education on the process.
Stocked shelves in The Orebed Sugar Shack

 “We’re for the kids, to educate the kids. Cause that’s your future in the business.”  Introducing younger generations to the woods that collect sap is much more than just a learning experience about maple syrup.The exposure encourages kids to learn about native insects, identify tracks left by various animals of the area, and discover how to classify trees.  
            The Jenness’ created these weekends to share their knowledge and products in hopes to ignite interest to help carry on their tradition. When asked what sparked the idea for maple weekends, Lori quickly answers, “to share it.” Many people aren’t aware exactly how much work goes into the process to make pure maple syrup, or how many gallons of sap are required to make one gallon of syrup. “We don’t hide any of it, if they want to know, we’ll show 'em.”
            Even in the off season you can find a variety of maple products stocked in the Sugar Shack. People from everywhere have come to visit, from chemical engineers at NASA interested in the details of production to people from England and the south who are curious about maple syrup production.
The traditional method to make maple syrup shown during Maple Weekends

            Outside of making maple syrup, the Jenness’ are extremely self sufficient. On the property they have no electric bill, due to their 98 solar panels and backup generator, and have a garden that provides them with fresh berries and vegetables. The Jenness’ emphasize that they try to process all their own food and continue to hunt for their own meat. With the occasional run to the store to buy pork or chicken, Jeff recalls that the last time they bought beef was in 2002.
            If you want to know more about The Orebed Sugar Shack, or where to buy their product, you can check out


A note from Gloria:

In the spirit of full disclosure, I wanted to let you know that Lori Jenness is my cousin!  So, when intern Jenna picked the Orebed Sugar Shack out of the Local Food Guide as someone she wanted to profile for Farmer Friday, I kind of chuckled, but then thought, "why not?"

Lori's dad and my dad were brothers and along with a couple of other family members owned Crystal Rock Maple Producers in Fowler when we were kids.  So Lori and I grew up the maple business, back in the days when we were not only collecting sap in buckets, but at least some of time, doing it with a horse-drawn gathering wagon.  (Yes, I really am that old.  But Lori is younger!)

It's a joy to celebrate this family tradition with Lori and Jeff every year during the Maple Weekends and to share it with all of you via my work at GardenShare!

Gloria McAdam