MANTUA, Ohio – The sap has been running through the woods of the Goodell Farm in Mantua, Ohio, since 1825, and it doesn’t look like it will stop any time soon.
Frank and Virginia Goodell say the trick to staying in the maple syrup business is to change with customers’ needs and wants. And, according to Virginia, the customer wants variety.
“Forty years ago, we only sold the syrup in gallons, even 50-gallon drums. Now we sell everything from a half-pint to gallons,” said Virginia. “We also make maple butter, maple candy, and mapled corn and nuts. I also found a recipe using dark syrup in barbecue sauce, so we now offer barbecue sauce, as well.”
For the most part, the Goodells sell directly to the customer from their home. They set up a booth at many fairs and shows. For the Christmas season they offer gift baskets chocked full of their maple goodies. They sell most of their dark syrup to wholesale marketers.
The Goodells say they are best known for the pancake breakfasts they host in March.
“For 20 years we’ve done pancake breakfasts the four Sundays in March. A lot of people come to buy the products they use for the year,” said Virginia. “Every year our numbers grow, and we now serve between 600 and 700 people each Sunday. Everyone in the family helps, and we also hire servers and kitchen staff. We’re unique because we seat people and serve them. They don’t have to go through a buffet line.”
The breakfasts are held at the Shalersville Town Hall, at the intersection of Routes 303 and 44, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Whether or not the breakfasts continue after Virginia and Frank retire, they say, will be up to their family. Sons Jay and Bruce work full-time on the farm, which also includes dairy and timber operations. Their eldest son, Keith, lives and works off the farm.
Frank and Virginia do not want to predetermine their children’s or grandchildren’s futures and therefore, have not taken any steps toward any official farmland preservation. They say the sale of the purchase of development rights of their Portage County farm will most likely not happen during their lifetime.
“We hope this land stays a farm, and we hope it stays in the family, but that will be up to them. It will be as long as I’m alive, and our sons do most of the work now and I can’t see them ever doing anything else, but the future of farming will be hard,” said Frank.
One grandson is at Ohio State studying agriculture. “He shows interest in continuing to farm, but it will be hard for him to do it by himself.”
However, with that said, the family is not resting on its laurels or waiting for the end to it all. They have instituted an intensive grazing system and raise their own heifer replacements. Bruce has found Holstein and Jersey crosses work the best for their rotation system, although they also still raise purebred Holsteins to boost production.
In addition, the diversified farm family sells potatoes directly to the customers from their farm.
The Goodell farm is also a certified tree farm. Franks says the biggest concern for them is raising the best trees possible. They employ selective cutting and thinning methods to the more than 100 acres of woods. The family owns 450 acres and rents about another 50. Three years ago the Goodell Farm was selected as an Ohio Century Farm.
The family is also looking into expanding the maple syrup operation as well. Currently they tap about 2,000 trees, but look to build a larger system in the future.
“We spend a lot more effort getting the right trees rather than having the best equipment. Quality is important to us,” said Frank. “We are now completely on tubing with a pump system that takes the sap into the sugarhouse. And we’re using reverse osmosis, which a lot of people aren’t doing yet.”
Their reverse osmosis system takes two-thirds of the water out of the sap, which means they don’t have to boil it as long in the evaporator.
“For every 50 to 60 gallons of water we take out, we get one gallon of syrup,” said Frank. “The RO is a big time and energy saver.”
Regardless of what happens to the Goodell farm in the future, the people in the Ohio maple syrup industry will not soon forget Frank and Virginia. They have both judged numerous contests and have been a constant in the industry for as long as most can remember. Les Ober, Geauga County extension agent, said when you think of maple syrup in Ohio, the first people to come to mind are the Goodells.
Fellow maple syrup producer Bill Belew of Auburn, Ohio, also spoke well of them saying, “(Frank) is just a great guy. They know so much about the industry, anyone could learn so much from them.”