Seven generations of maple syrup production in Ohio

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maple syrup, Ohio farm
Nathan Goodell standing by their evaporator at Goodell Farm.

MANTUA, Ohio — In 1815, Jonas Goodell came to Ohio from Massachusetts, wanting to start a new venture. Ten years later in 1825, he did just that: Goodell purchased 130 acres and started to farm and make maple syrup.

The farm, now 400 acres, has been passed down since then, from generation to generation.

Goodell Family Farm is currently operated by Jay and Barb Goodell and one of their sons, Nathan. Jay’s brother Bruce played a large part in the maple production until a few years ago when he retired.

Through the years, the family has been involved in the production of maple syrup, dairy farming and potatoes. The Goodells produced their last yield of potatoes in 2005 to focus on maple syrup and the dairy. (Scroll down to see more on Goodells’ dairy.)

From a young age, Nathan has been interested in the farm and plans to take over the family tradition. He graduated from the Ohio State University in 2005 with a degree in animal science. Later that year, he married Rebecca, and they have three children: Ryan, 9, Evan, 7, and Natalie, 6.

As maple syrup season began in early February, the family is carrying out the family tradition yet again.

Maple syrup

Maple syrup has been a family staple on the farm, with methods changing over time. In the late ’90s, the Goodells switched from collecting sap in buckets to collecting sap through tubing. Today, there are 5,000 taps across a 100-acre woods, all on one tubing system.

Jay’s father, Frank, and his brother Bruce experimented with different tubing systems to see what would work best for the farm. In 2005, the family switched to the system they are currently using, purchased from a Canadian farmer who installed the system.

From the trees, the sap is vacuumed through tubing into a storage bin, then processed into syrup. All tubes are off the ground, sloping so they don’t fight gravity, according to Nathan.

The process. Every year, the family taps the trees in early February, a process that typically takes five days to complete, as they insert the spout and connect to the tubing on each tree.

The farm uses reverse osmosis to remove 80 percent of water out of the sap. After reverse osmosis, they boil the sap in an evaporator to remove more water, making the sap more dense and concentrated into syrup. When the process is complete, they store the syrup in stainless steel bins until it needs to be bottled.

To better maintain quality and keep track of the maple process, the farm invested in new technology in 2017, installing sensors in storage tanks and monitors at the end of vacuum lines. An iPad is used to receive this data and allows the operation to be viewed remotely from across the farm, which gives the family a peace of mind.

The goal each year is to produce 2,000 gallons of maple syrup. Although the past two years have been lower, they are hopeful for a good yield. Typically the season ends at the end of March but can sometime last until mid-April for the family.

“The whole process is kind of neat, I think, from start to finish,” said Nathan.

Organic dairy and syrup

In 2008, the family decided to go organic in both the dairy farm and in the maple syrup production.

To be organic in maple syrup production, the Goodells use an organic defoamer, use no chemicals or pesticides on the farm and have a buffer zone between their fields and conventionally farmed fields.

“There are not many maple operations that are certified organic,” said Nathan.

Goodell Farms sells its maple syrup in various farmers markets, such as Shaker Square North Union Market, Kent Haymaker Farmers’ Market, Hudson Farmers’ Market, Mantua Farmers’ Market, the Portage County Randolph Fair and Mantua Potato Festival.

They also sell a variety of products, such as maple candy, maple sugar, maple covered walnuts, maple covered pecans, maple covered peanuts, maple spread and various sizes and grades of maple syrup. All the nuts products are not organic.

Award-winning syrup

In 2019, Goodell Family Farm received the Ohio Maple Producers’ Taster’s Choice award, and received second place in 2016 at the international maple meeting for their golden-delicate syrup. At Geauga County’s Maple Festival, they have won Best Out of County “numerous times,” said Nathan.

The farm, which is an Ohio Century Farm, also received the International Best of Show award in 2003 for their light amber and medium amber syrup.

“My grandpa was an expert on judging,” said Nathan. “He was a longtime judge of the Geauga County maple festival, and he knew his syrup pretty well.”

Goodell Family Farm participates in Ohio Maple Madness, which is a large educational event through Ohio Maple Producers. And for more than 35 years, the farm has hosted a pancake breakfast at the Shalersville Town Hall.

Virginia Goodell, Jay’s mother, started the breakfast and still plays a large role. Even in her 90s, “she is there, leading the charge,” said Nathan.

They host the event the first three Sundays in March and see over 400 individuals from the community at the breakfasts.

The family is active in both Ohio Maple Producers and Ohio Farm Bureau. Rebecca is involved in Ohio Maple Producers as a director, and is the current president of the Portage County Farm Bureau. Nathan manages the website for Ohio Maple Producers.

Through all of the activities, events and farm work, the family is still optimistic and hopeful for a good year.

“The potential is there for a good season, but ’til it’s over, you don’t know,” said Nathan.

Goodells’ organic dairy is farm’s backbone

Although this time of year, maple syrup demands more of the attention at Goodell Farms, the farm’s 80-head dairy herd is the main attraction, and bill-payer.

The crossbred herd includes a cross of Jersey, Holstein, Normandy and Norwegian Red cattle.

The Goodells intensively graze the cattle and feed organic corn from a local farm.

“We have been grazing since the early ’90s and we are committed to that, and that is a big part of the organic process,” said Nathan Goodell, who farms with his parents, Jay and Barb Goodell, along with his wife, Rebecca.

The Goodells milk in a Dairymaster swing 10, a system that is popular among farms that graze, and sell their milk to Organic Valley Co-op.

According to Nathan, they decided to certify the dairy farm organic because “it was a good way to keep a small farm sustainable.”

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Check out this past story about the Goodell Family.

Goodell maple tubing

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1 View

Goodell maple tubing

2 View

Goodell maple syrup

3 View

Sap storage in the 100-acre woods

4 View

Nathan Goodell checking a storage tank after getting notification from iPad technology.

5 View

Sugar house at Goodell FarmPhoto submitted by Nathan Goodell

6 View

Goodell tubing

7 View

Nathan Goodell in their 100-acre woods.

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