Tag Archives: recycling

Boiling sap produces more than just maple syrup

Sugar shack by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller's sugar shack is nestled against the woods where the maple sap is obtained.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When Gary Miller of rural Millersburg, Ohio got the idea to make his own maple syrup a couple of years ago, he never envisioned where that thought would take him.

“Two years ago,” Miller said, “I was standing in the rain under an umbrella boiling sap in an assortment of old used pans on my grill.”

This year, thanks to the ingenuity and dedication of some close friends and family members, Miller has his very own sugar shack. And when the sap is running, his shack and the surrounding woods are very busy places indeed.

The shack itself was donated to Miller. A friend, Paul Conrad, had an old shed he told Miller he could have, and Miller’s sons moved it in seven different sections for him. Once on site, the building was reassembled, reusing the old lumber.

That process set the tone for what was to come. Much of the equipment used by Miller and his friends has been refurbished as some part and purpose of the maple syrup operation.

Checking taps by Bruce Stambaugh

When the sap is running, the taps get checked frequently.

Indeed, when the sap is moving, so are a half dozen or so of Miller’s friends who help with the project. They placed 400 taps in sugar, red and black maple trees, according to Miller.

“We are careful about how many taps we place in a tree,” Miller said. “We don’t want to stress them.”

They also helped split the wood that fuels the fire that boils the sap on a homemade evaporator. Of course, the gregarious crew also put that together. Much of that ingenious system consists of recycled metal and other materials.

The wood stove that holds the fire that boils the sap belonged to Scott Sponsler, another friend. The stove was extended with metal from old toolboxes from a pickup truck that Miller owned.

Miller had a fan rebuilt and some ductwork manufactured locally. Together they help distribute the heat generated by the wood stove. The heat evaporates the sap into syrup.

The sap enters the sugar shack from another recycled item, an old bulk tank rescued from an unused milking parlor. It is held up by a repurposed metal stand so the sap flows by gravity into a smaller, reconstructed holding tank inside the old wooden shed.

Sap maze by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller explained how his sap boiling operations works.

From there, the sap runs into a customized sheet metal maze that allows the sap to be evaporated as it circulates up and down the four parallel troughs. After entering a second connected metal maze, the sap begins to change color. It is closer to the firebox and the preheated sap really starts to boil. Its darker color indicates that the moisture is being bubbled away.

Miller said that the sap isn’t officially maple syrup until its consistency is at least 66.9 degrees Brix, as measured by a hydrometer. Miller said with his setup, it takes 51 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup.

Hydrometer by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller showed how he uses a hydrometer to measure the maple syrup's moisture content.

Miller and his friends make the syrup when the sap is running. He said warmer days and cooler nights are the best conditions to make the sap run.

Before it is pumped into the elevated holding tank, the sap is gathered into 15-gallon containers from each tap bucket. The containers are carried on the back of a small tractor. Of course, the tractor was loaned, too.

Pouring sap by Bruce Stambaugh

Scott Sponsler poured sap from one of the tap buckets into a 15-gallon container before heading back to the sugar shack.

All the free equipment and labor is only appropriate. Miller said the maple syrup that is produced is not for sale, although it does have a name, Smoke Pit Maple Syrup.

“This is not a commercial operation,” Miller emphasized.

Instead customers get to donate whatever they feel the syrup is worth. The money is used for an educational scholarship program in Honduras. Miller’s Sunday school class at Millersburg Mennonite Church is financially sponsoring the schooling of several children there.

With all that said, Miller shared another important ingredient in the maple syrup production as far as he is concerned.

“It’s not about the syrup,” Miller said. “It’s about the fellowship.”

Indeed, laughter and kibitzing among the friends intermingle with the steam from the cooking sap in the cold, small shack. The steam and merriment waft together out into the cold air through the open doorways. The good-natured ribbing helps make the labor-intensive sugaring efforts all the sweeter.

Persons interested in obtaining some of the Smoke Pit Maple Syrup should contact Miller at 330-763-0364.

Maple syrup by Bruce Stambaugh

Various sized jars of Smoke Pit Maple Syrup lined a shelf in the sugar shack.

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Make shopping thrifty in Ohio’s Amish Country

Thrift store shopper by Bruce Stambaugh

Marlene Burrell of Mineral City, OH shops regularly at the Harvest Thrift Store in Sugarcreek, OH.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Frugal shoppers will find a bonanza in Ohio’s Amish Country. The area is abundant with several well-stocked thrift stores, which is a reflection of Amish and Mennonite values.

The Amish and Mennonite cultures have a reputation for being thrifty. Recycling clothing, house wares and other household items and much more not only fits that image but their theology of service as well. Accordingly, profits from all the area’s thrift stores go to various charities.

Great bargains covering a wide range of items can be found in each thrift store. All resell clean, functional and stylish merchandise for the entire family.

On the eastern edge of Amish Country is the Harvest Thrift Store in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Located at 1019 West Main Street, the Harvest Thrift Store has been in operation for four years. A second store at 102 East Main Street in Wilmot opened last May.

All proceeds go to youth ministries and to local non-profit organizations like Every Women’s House in Wooster. According to store manager Holly Lehigh, 30 to 40 percent of her customers are from out of the area.

“We have some people from out of state who come back three or four times every year,” she said. “They tell me that what they spend on gas they more than make up in the savings of what they buy.”

In Wayne County’s Kidron, MCC Connections offers its items in a pleasant and well-organized atmosphere. Store manager, Bill Ressler, said that a number of tour buses stop at the store on occasion, the most recent from North Carolina. He attributes those visits to the promotion of the store by the Wayne County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

According to Ressler, all proceeds from sales at MCC Connections go to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Akron, Pennsylvania. MCC assists peoples around the globe in education, water projects and agricultural initiates, encouraging health, hygiene and sustainability. MCC Connections is located at 4080 Kidron Road, Kidron.

Back in Holmes County in the hub of Amish Country is Berlin, where Share and Care Thrift Store operates on U.S. 62. Share and Care sends 80 percent of its profits to Haiti missions and uses the balance for local needs, such as fire victims and personal disasters.

Day manager Noah Troyer estimated that at least 50 percent of the store’s business is from tourists. He said that amount increases during peak tourist time.

“We have had people here from Arizona and California,” Troyer said.

Millersburg, the county seat, hosts two thriving thrift shops, the internationally known Goodwill Industries, and Save and Serve Thrift Shop. They just happen to be catty corner from one another on South Washington Street at Rodhe Drive.

Like it’s international corporation goals, Goodwill’s objective is to finance the employment of those who need jobs. Store manager, Josh McWilliams, said most of his customers are local residents, though the number of tourists who frequent the store increases seasonally.

“They are mostly looking for down home, Amish-made items,” McWilliams said.

According to Helen Glick, co-manager at Save and Serve, about 25 percent of their customers are from outside the immediate area.

“Our on-going silent auctions seem to attract collectors and others interested in unusual pieces and antiques,” Glick said. A look at the silent auction bid book indicated customers from all across Ohio as well as several from other states.

Eric Raber, co-manager at Save and Serve, credits the community’s continued support for the long-term success of his store. Save and Serve was founded in 1975.

“Even in a down economy, the local people continue to provide us with amazing amounts and quality items to offer at reasonable prices,” Raber said. Like MCC Connections, all of the profits at Save and Serve are sent to MCC. In its 35 years of operation, Save and Serve has sent $3.3 million to MCC to help fund its global projects.

Whether from near or far, bargains galore are sure to be found in the thrift stores in Ohio’s Amish Country. And emblematic of the holiday spirit, all of the profits from sales go to those in need.

Thrifty shoppers by Bruce Stambaugh

Kay Schrock, Mary Hoefer, and Jo Troyer, all of Goshen, IN, and Becky Christophel of Harrisonburg, VA, shopped several Amish Country thrift stores, including Share and Care in Berlin. The three sisters and their mother, Troyer, enjoy their frequent rendezvous' in Ohio's Amish country.

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