Almost three years ago, Alexander Klohe and girlfriend Anneke Schaul-Yoder left the constraints of suburban New Jersey to live the dream of farming and living off his grandfather’s land, a beautiful swath of a mountain in West Shokan, New York. After years of working in the high-end automotive repair business, Alex decided to pursue his vision of sustainable living and growing his own food. Emil’s Agroforest, named in honor of Alex’s grandfather, is dedicated to minimally disturbing the bounty that Mother Nature has provided. Incorporating different farming methods such as permaculture, biodynamics, and soil building to name a few – his goal is to feed the land, feed his family and feed the community.
One of the first endeavors for Emil’s was maple syrup. Their land is heavily dotted with grand old sugar maples that can be found growing all the way to the top of their property: a prime scenario for syrup production.”We have found previous tap marks on these trees,” Anneke says,” they were definitely making syrup here years ago”. With the extraordinarily warm winter, syrup season started quite early in the Hudson Valley. Dedicated to amping up production, Alex and Anneke invested in tubing, containment, a large evaporator and building a sap house for this season’s harvest.
Over the past two years, Alex and Anneke have scoped out the best Sugar Maples to tap. It is a very steep scramble to the top of the hill to reach these prime creatures, I definitely fell trying trying to climb the hill, I can’t imagine having to do it with heavy tubing and tapping supplies on my back! The payoff has been immeasurable as the flow has been bountiful this year. They hope to double the amount of taps for next season.
As spring approaches, the fluctuation of above freezing day-time temperatures coupled with freezing night-time temperatures are vital in creating a positive pressure in the trees. This syphoning effect draws the sap from the roots and out through these wounds, or in this case punctures from taps. Maple Syrup season is only a few weeks long and once the trees go to bud, the sap stops flowing until the following spring.
Several taps puncture each tree which connect to blue tubbing that acts like veins -drawing off sap.
The blue tubbing is then connected to a main artery or large black tubing thus drawing the sap into two large food-grade storage containers by their tiny house.
Dedicated to using what is on hand, Alex created his sap house from left-over greenhouse building material (below).
Almost everything at Emil’s is self-produced. Ash trees, which make excellent fire-wood without having to be seasoned, were felled by Alex to heat the evaporator. Anneke said she has been chopping wood for weeks. Keeping the evaporator hot and at a constant temperature is a very labor intensive task and vital to creating syrup.
Sap syphoned from the large storage containers runs directly into the evaporator where it is heated and runs through the designated compartments; flowing up and down and evaporating until the final compartment where the sap becomes syrup.
Because watching the syrup is a non-stop job, eating takes on a creative twist.
Once the sap hits the last compartment and reaches it’s critical temperature, it is drawn off into large containers.
I took an opportunity to sample the cooled product. The taste of just-poured resin is unlike any of the syrups I’ve tried. You can truly taste mineralogy of the land and sense the energy that takes to make this beautiful amber liquid.
“I like to think of maple syrup as stored sunlight,” Alex says, “The trees spent last season soaking up sunlight, turning it into sugars, and storing those sugars in their roots so that they will have the energy to make new leaves this year. We take a tiny bit of this sugary sap and use some of their dead branches (also stored sunlight, in the form of carbon) to cook it down into this concentrated sweet sunlight concoction that we love.”
It was truly and honor to spend the day with Alex and Anneke. Syrup making is a hot, steamy and intense process that takes years of planning. It’s more than a full-time job and to see it from start to finish has been an extraordinary privilege. Emil’s is currently selling its excellent graded syrup as well as totally organic eggs. In the beginning of June, pastured organic chicken meat will be available. Please visit www.emilsagroforest.com to find out how you can obtain any of their fine farm products and for you city folk, Alex makes a drive into Inwood (and sometimes Brooklyn) every Thursday.
596 Watson Hollow Rd, West Shokan, NY 12494