Ray and Pam Melander of Leafy Grove Maple, were honored as the 2013 WI Maple Syrup Producers of the Year on Jan. 11 at the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producer Association’s Winter Institute. The criterion for earning this award not only includes producing maple syrup, but also involvement in the WMSPA and commitment to the advancement of maple syrup production in the state of Wisconsin.
Ray and Pam’s involvement in maple syrup began about 20 years ago. Ray joined the Agri-business committee of the Merrill Area Chamber of Commerce; in which he met Joe Polak, owner of Maple Hollow. Joe’s appreciation of the maple industry started to have a lasting effect on Ray, making his excitement for the industry grow. In 1997 the Melander’s purchased land that was able to make their excitement for the maple syrup industry into a reality; starting Leafy Grove Maple with less than 500 taps in spring 1998. From there, Ray and Pam got involved with the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association and continued making new connections within the industry and learning all that they could. Gaining knowledge increased their desire to manage the woods to accommodate healthy trees and increase their amount of taps. From building a road system within the woods to installing a gravity-flow system, Leafy Grove Maple continued to expand. At this time, they were only able to sell their sap to other area syrup producers.
In 2011 Ray and Pam encountered a turning point in their maple syrup business. It was in this year the two were approached by friends Steve and Nancee Emmerich, who also tapped in the area, to build a central processing facility. After many discussions, plans and teamwork, Sweet Nature Foods, LLC was established in Athens as their central processing facility. This second business venture lends itself to processing sap from both Leafy Grove Maple, the Emmerich’s sugar bush, and to purchase sap from other area producers – making Ray’s involvement really come full circle.
“As someone who started in this industry only being able to sell their own sap, to now having grown to where they are today as a sugar bush and partner; it’s a great honor to be recognized as a Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producer of the Year,” Ray said.
Today, Leafy Grove Maple encompasses close to 1,500 taps on a vacuum system and the Melanders look forward to continuing to see their excitement for the maple syrup industry and their business grow, well into the next generation.