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Canton teenager starts maple syrup business with wood pellet evaporator

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CANTON — As a child, Joshua C. Parker enjoyed his backyard maple syrup operation. Now 16, Josh has expanded to 3,500 taps and has the state’s first wood-pellet-fired evaporator.

“I’ve always seen the potential of the maple industry,” he said. “I have a passion for it.”

Over the past four or five years, Josh’s maple sugaring business has grown exponentially from its start of 15 buckets. He conducted his own research and drew up a business plan so his father, Christian R. Parker, would co-sign on a loan for the evaporator, reverse osmosis machine and tubing.

“For my dad, it was whether I could convince him he could make his money back,” Josh said.

Josh’s enthusiasm for a maple syrup business took Mr. Parker, the owner of Parker Line Striping, aback.

“I was a little surprised when he wanted to make the leap and go big,” Mr. Parker said. “I told him I wanted to hear more and to do his homework. I told him, ‘I’ve got a lot on my plate and I can’t do it for you.’ He grabbed a hold of it. He’s motivated. As a kid, he’s met all these people. It’s really his project. He’s gone from backyard sugaring to a good-sized operation that has a lot of potential.”

Mr. Parker said he helped set up a limited liability corporation.

“I say ‘I’m the silent partner,’” Mr. Parker said. “I try to be silent.”

Josh had help installing the tubing so that he could learn how to do it. He is tapping trees on his family’s property, woods owned by his grandfather, Arlie L. Parker, and is leasing other trees. He is also involved with the Future Farmers of America community maple project, whose members are tapping trees around Canton. Josh will boil down the sap they collect.

Josh is accustomed to state-of-the-art equipment. His house at 2591 County Route 21 and his father’s business on Route 11 are windmill-powered. The wood-pellet evaporator he chose is energy efficient.

“It’s kind of cutting edge,” Josh said. “It’s very inexpensive to run.”

The evaporator also has another advantage. It can be turned off with the flip of a switch.

However, like many syrup makers pumped over the first run of sap, Josh did not go to bed the first night he tried out the evaporator during a January thaw. He boiled through the night, went to Canton Central School the next day and hockey practice.

“It was exciting,” Josh said. “It was kind of an adrenalin rush.”

The evaporator and Josh’s operation will be available for public view March 22 and 23 during Maple Weekend of the St. Lawrence County Maple Producers Association. He also has a website, www.parkermaple.com, which offers online sales of syrup in glass jars, maple cream and maple candy.

“He’s trying to market it and brand it,” Mr. Parker said. “His goal is to do more retail.”

Josh’s future plan is to pursue a business degree and work with his father’s business.

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