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Laurel Fork Sapsuckers: Land Use History and Culture

If you start to talk about maple syrup with people from the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia and Virginia, they will likely tell you a story about how their grandmother or great grandmother used to make syrup. If they didn’t have to go to school that day, they’ll recount a time when they helped their grandmother collect sap buckets or “boil.” The Moyers family like so many hung up their sap buckets and flat pans for a later generation to eventually discover and dust off. A series of inexplicable choices made by one generation to the next presented the Moyers family with an opportunity. The sweet forest product, which was once used for trade by the Moyers, is a family business today that supports the management of their farm “so that they can pass it on to their children better than they found it.”

On the eastern ridges of the Alleghenies at 4,108 feet, Laurel Fork Sapsuckers sits on 594-acres that joins the families’ original 300-acre homestead that straddles the West Virginia and Virginia state line. John Moyers purchased the additional 594 acres in 1957 to expand their farming operation and to prepare to gift the 300-acre property to his son, Roscoe, to start a family of his own. John’s younger son, Ronnie, was later born on the 594-acre property. Ronnie Moyers and his wife, Sandy, raised their family on this property and own the property today.

The sights, the smells, and the sounds experienced on this mountain farm change with each new generation. When Ronnie was growing up his parents ran sheep and raised jersey cows for milk. Ronnie remembers the days when you could hear the cowbells ringing off in the distance over a hillside. The cow’s milk was kept cold in the Laurel Fork stream as they waited for the driver from Back Creek to deliver the milk to “The Valley,” Shenandoah Valley. The dairy was the first farm enterprise. The farm was always managed for timber and timber products. Eventually, John, Ronnie, and Sandy harvested locust trees to help clear the land and they split locust posts to sell. Locust fence posts were the second farm enterprise.

Much of that cleared land is forest today. The sheep are no longer a part of the farm managing the pasture, and you will no longer hear the ringing of cowbells. Ronnie maintains a few pastures where his father grazed livestock and cut hay. Looking out over one of the larger pastures with a mountain vista off in the distance, Ronnie sees his father working with his two draft horses cutting hay, and himself stacking the hay onto old fashioned haystacks. Aside from the few pastures that are keeping memories alive, the farm is predominantly managed forestland for timber and specialty wood products, wildlife habitat, forest botanicals, wild and cultivated mushrooms, recreation, learning, and of course, maple syrup.

Laurel Fork Sapsuckers is a family of foresters. Missy Moyers-Jarrells, the daughter of Ronnie Moyers, is a fourth-generation forester and the third generation to manage the forests at Laurel Fork Sapsuckers. Missy acknowledges the value of her ancestor’s knowledge and experiences of working in the timber industry and the advantages it’s gifted them. The Moyers’ family photo album is filled with photographs of Missy’s great grandparents, grandparents, and her father Ronnie as a young boy. The family’s livelihood is captured in the photographs and protected in the clear, rectangular sleeves throughout the pages of the album. The photographs of their logging truck likely on its way to the Covington mill, the portrait of John’s logging horses, Pete and Prince, and the woods that many of them grew up logging gives a sense for the family’s reverence for their ancestors and the profession that’s been passed down from generation to generation.

After earning a forestry degree, Missy worked full time logging with her dad for two and a half years. She later went to work for a lumber company and the United States Forest Service. The father and daughter are a team once again managing the farm’s third enterprise, the Laurel Fork Sapsuckers sugar camp. Making syrup was in the cards for this family. In 2010, Missy and her husband Joe decided to dust off her grandparents’ maple equipment, spared from the family estate sale a number of years prior, and went to tap a stand of maple trees- trees that Missy’s grandfather had excluded from timber harvests and that her father had conveniently decided to selectively thin 16 years before. This stand of maple trees is one of several sugarbushes at Laurel Fork Sapsuckers today and produces the sweetest sap of them all.

Missy and Ronnie at a workshop on their farm

Laurel Fork Sapsuckers represents a family’s Appalachian heritage. For the next generation to benefit from the forest like the five generations before them and to continue to tell their family’s story, Ronnie and Missy are diversifying beyond just offering pure Virginia maple syrup. Laurel Fork Sapsuckers is a family of woodworkers, conservationists, wild foragers, wildlife enthusiasts, event planners, bakers, craft makers, and teachers creating artisanal goods and experiences that tell a story about family, hard work, forest management, and the feeling of joy that comes from these forests.

By Evelyn Hartman, Education & Impact Associate, Future Generations University

I am incredibly grateful to the Moyers and Moyers-Jarrells family for welcoming me time and time again to the family farm. This writeup is the culmination of those visits, walking the woods while listening to them share their families’ stories and visions for the future of Laurel Fork Sapsuckers. I owe Missy Moyers-Jarrells for a longer than anticipated phone interview, and I credit her for fact checking my imperfect memory and spelling of family names. Thank you for sharing your stories with me and Future Generations University.

Thank you to my colleagues, Heather Harper, Bruce Holdeman, Lindsay Kazarick, Mike Rechlin, and Luke Taylor-Ide, at Future Generations University for reviewing, editing, and publishing this writeup.

Frostmore Farm – Maple & More: Land Use History and Culture

“Terroir” is a French term adopted by English speakers. It is not uncommon to hear the term used in tasting rooms or wine bars across the United States in reference to the tasting notes of a wine that derive from the vineyard’s climate, soils, and terrain. The Taylor family’s 100 to 120-year-old sugar orchard is on the eastern slope of a mountain ridge not far from the Monongahela National Forest at 2700 feet. Without using the word “terroir,” Adam and Rachel Taylor, the owners of Frostmore Farm – Maple & More, attribute the unique characteristics of their maple syrup to the sugar orchard’s climate and terrain.

The 100- to 120-year-old sugar orchard stands behind the original homestead. In neat rows of three, large sugar maples stand tall and widely spaced. A sugar shack still stands between the homestead and the sugar orchard. Past generations’ planting and stewarding of the sugar orchard gives today’s generation a maple stand that produces an unusually high volume ofsap and percent sugar content for the Central Appalachian region. Rachel suspects a “JohnnyAppleseed of sugar maples” came through one year with seeds that grew into this sugar orchard and the sugar orchards in the area.

The Taylor family’s story on this land started in the late 1960s. John D. Rockefeller IV purchased the Taylor’s family farm not far up the road to build his estate. Adam’s grandparents and his father as a young boy moved to the property where Frostmore Farm is today. They tapped theoriginal sugar orchard and planted the next generation of maple trees. As time passed andgrandparents died, the family put the buckets away and left the flat pan to rust and collect dust inside the sugar shack. Adam’s father started spending less and less time on the farm. When cattle prices became too low, they stopped raising cattle on the farm. But then, Adam and Rachel returned home in 2009 after going away for school. In need of “something to do” during a time when they “didn’t have any responsibilities” before the days of parenthood, they joined their relatives in tapping the sugar orchard and the younger maple stand to make maple syrup for family and friends.

In 2011, Adam and Rachel purchased a section of the Taylor’s family farm that happened to include the original sugar orchard. Four years later, in 2015, a family pastime, passed down from generation to generation, becomes Frostmore Farm- Maple & More. Today, the Taylor’s have 1,000 taps on the farm. To meet the demand for their maple syrup, maple cream, cotton candy, and vinaigrette and marinade, they collect sap from a neighboring sugar orchard, a stand of maples in Highland County, and from the students at Pocahontas County High School.

To improve efficiencies and increase production, Rachel and Adam measure, taste, grade, and record information every season. It’s most helpful, according to Rachel, for grant writing. A whiteboard hangs on the wall in the bottling room. It is mostly covered in numbers handwritten in dry erase marker. Adam uses gauges in the field to measure site production and line meters in the “tank room” to measure sugar content. They record what products are sold at the roadside stand, and they count their money. Earnings from the maple syrup products are invested in the farm and “new ideas,” like the u-pick blueberry patch on their farm in Greenbank.

Rachel and Adam make a point to acknowledge that they did not get to this place in their business alone. In the early years, they traveled up to Pennsylvania, New York, and New Hampshire for maple camps, expos, conferences, and serendipitous conversations to avoid making major mistakes. Bodan Peters, President of the New Hampshire Maple Syrup Producers Association and owner of Bo’s Sugar Shack in Sugar Hill, is responsible for getting Adam and Rachel into the business of maple syrup. Cornell Maple Camp prepared them further for the nuances of maple syrup production, marketing, and business management. A visit to Bascom Maple Farms, one of the largest bottlers in the United States, while on a trip up to New Hampshire taught Adam to “put your money in the woods not your sugar shack.” They are grateful for the maple syrup producers in the Northeast who shared their knowledge and time with them.

Back in West Virginia, they couldn’t do what they do without the help of Rachel’s father and his forestry knowledge. And, of course, the loyal customers who frequent their roadside stand and visit them at the many festivals they attend across the state. Today, Adam and Rachel are sharing what they’ve learned with their community in West Virginia. They are members of the West Virginia Maple Syrup Producers Association, participate in Mountain State Maple Days, and host youth activities on the farm for Pocahontas County Elementary students and the forestry students at the high school.

By Evelyn Hartman, Education & Impact Associate, Future Generations University

Many thanks to Adam and Rachel for taking a pause in their busy lives to talk with me one summer day at Frostmore Farm. Although a brief pause, I should mention. These two are professional multitaskers- labeling bottles, picking up sticks, and moving boxes, while entertaining me with their family stories and taking me down memory lane to learn about Frostmore Farm and how it came to be. The information in this writeup is based on our conversation that day and the private tour of the maple operation. I am so appreciative of the time that Rachel’s mother offered to provide childcare that afternoon which allowed me to speak with both Rachel and Adam. Thank you for trusting me with your story. Adam and Rachel kindly reviewed, fact-checked, and approved the final draft. Future Generations University and I are grateful for Adam and Rachel’s continued contributions to the maple syrup community in West Virginia.

Thank you to my colleagues, Heather Harper, Bruce Holdeman, Lindsay Kazarick, Mike Rechlin, and Luke Taylor-Ide, at Future Generations University for reviewing, editing, and publishing this writeup.

Family Roots Farm: Land Use History and Culture

On the outskirts of Wellsburg, West Virginia, on top of a mountain ridge at about 1200 feet in elevation is the Hervey’s family farm. About three miles to the east, as a crow flies, is Pennsylvania and about three miles to the west is Ohio. In 1775 when the Hervey’s first settled on this mountain ridge it was the bustling town of Charlestown in the Colony of Virginia. Two hundred and fifty years later, the Hervey family remains on the land, each generation leaving the rolling pastures and forested slopes to the next. Fred Hervey was the sixth generation to grow up on the farm with his sister and three brothers. There was “always [something] exciting going on at the farm,” Fred remembers of his childhood.

Fred Hervey was the sixth generation to grow up on the farm with his sister and three brothers. There was “always [something] exciting going on at the farm,” Fred remembers of his childhood. One morning, young Fred woke to the smell of cinnamon rolls baking in the oven. In pursuit of finding the freshly baked cinnamon rolls, he discovered piglets tucked away in one of the ovens being used as an incubator. Fred and his siblings were raised alongside their hardworking parents, grandparents, great aunts, and the many farm helpers who were considered family. Today, Fred is grateful for these moments on the farm. It’s in these moments when Fred gained valuable skills, developed his passion for equipment, and learned to work hard.

Fred also witnessed the ups and downs of the agricultural commodities market and its effects on the farm. The pastures managed for beef cattle today were once croplands growing grain. The croplands eventually became pasture for merino sheep, and later dairy cows. While his father, William Judson, worked as a chemist off the farm, Fred’s mother, Margret Ann, managed the dairy herd until the milk prices sank. Fred can recall his mother’s great sadness the day her dairy cows were sold and left the farm.

Half of the original 400-acre property remains in the family. Eventually Fred and his siblings subdivided the 200 acres among themselves. Today, Fred and Cathy Hervey own 36 acres of the property where Fred’s ancestors originally settled. Their daughter, Britney Hervey Farris, is the seventh generation to steward the land. Following in her grandmother and great aunts, Mamie and Mattie’s, footsteps, Britney operates Family Roots Farm.

What started out as a high school project tapping maple trees and boiling sap with her father is a year-round agricultural business today. Family Roots Farm celebrates all four seasons with a spring, summer, fall, and winter harvest. U-pick strawberries in the spring, tomatoes and sweet corn in the summer, sorghum in the fall, and maple syrup in late winter to early spring, leaving only a couple of months between the last drop of sap and a hint of pink in the strawberry patches.

The diversity of agricultural products and events at Family Roots Farm is the result of the Hervey family’s eagerness to learn, but also to teach. Fred and Britney caught the sugar bug in 2000, the year of Britney’s high school project. After Britney submitted her project, the Hervey’s signed up for courses and workshops on maple syrup production offered by The Ohio State University and taught by Les Ober, a highly regarded celebrity at Family Roots Farm. They entered the business of confections after attending Maple Bootcamp and went on to win first place in sugar in the North American Maple Syrup Council’s maple contest. The award brought great recognition to Family Roots Farm and their “pure West Virginia maple syrup.”

The Hervey’s helped to start the West Virginia Maple Syrup Producers Association to bring educational opportunities and community to West Virginia. For two weekends during maple season, Family Roots Farm and members of the Association open their sugar camps to the public for visitors to experience and learn about maple syrup production in West Virginia. Welcoming visitors to the farm is fundamental to the business model of Family Roots Farm. Soon after hearing customers’ disbelief that their tomatoes were grown in their high tunnels and not a Marietta tomato trucked in from Parkersburg, they started inviting the community to the farm. Britney explains the connection between a customer’s experience of pulling up a carrot and learning that it grows beneath the ground and the customer building a meaningful relationship with the farm that lasts.

The Hervey’s family farm has been a place of learning for generations. Inheritance of the land comes with decades of knowledge passed down by elders. Britney, like her father, treasures the moments she spent by her dad’s side on the farm as a child. Today, Britney’s two children, Grady and Mylah, ride farm equipment with their grandad and are never far behind in the sugarbush. They both acknowledge the inconvenience of working with small children in tow, but the value of slowing down to share these experiences with the next generation far exceeds the speed of completing a task.

The father-daughter team at Family Roots Farm is extending that learning experience to their community, near and far. The farm-to-table dinners that draw guests from as far as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Belmont County, Ohio are more than a delicious meal prepared by regional chefs using local food. Each ingredient is a teaching moment. Family Roots Farm is a learning center for 4H, girl scouts, and homeschool groups. Britney is bringing Family Roots Farm into the classroom at her son’s school, Wheeling Country Day School, using “Maple in the Classroom” and “Project Learning Tree” curriculum. The community-wide events at Family Roots Farm attract the largest number of visitors and contribute the greatest to the farm financially. The community’s support at these events enables Family Roots Farm to continue to offer educational programming to its community and ensures that the Hervey family stays on the land for future generations to experience life on the farm and inherit generations of knowledge.

By Evelyn Hartman, Education & Impact Associate, Future Generations University

My drive up to Family Roots Farm from Pendleton County, West Virginia was not a short journey. Having the opportunity to meet the Hervey family and visit Family Roots Farm was well worth the travel. In early February with snow on the ground, I joined members of the Hervey family, several of my coworkers, and a local extension agent for a snowy trek through Family Roots Farm’s freshly tapped sugarbush. After the forest walk, Britney and Fred so generously agreed to sit down with me inside the commercial kitchen of their sugarhouse to talk about the Hervey family and Family Roots Farm. The forest walk, the conversation in the sugarhouse, and a recorded interview of Fred created by Britney contributed to the information in this writeup. Thank you both for sharing your treasured stories with me and for your warm hospitality. The final draft was reviewed for accuracy and approved by Britney and her family.

Thank you to my colleagues, Heather Harper, Bruce Holdeman, Lindsay Kazarick, Mike Rechlin, and Luke Taylor-Ide, at Future Generations University for reviewing, editing, and publishing this writeup.