By Michael Canfield
Niagara Gazette — Brothers-in-law Tony Gaeta, 67, and Rich Goodman, 66, are passionate about maple syrup. So passionate, in fact, that the two recently retired men spend hours every day creating the sugary, sweet amber-colored liquid.
"I love doing it," Gaeta said, noting that he's wanted to make maple syrup his whole life.
"We enjoy it," added Goodman.
What started as Gaeta using his wife's pans to boil sap outside several years ago has grown into a "hobby-business," Gaeta said, and now Gaeta and Goodman, who run Gaeta Family Farm, sell their own maple syrup out of the "sugar house" Gaeta built on his property in 2012. Located at 3789 Ridge Road, Cambria, Gaeta Family Farm is also participating in Maple Weekend for the first time this year.
"A friend suggested we do it," Gaeta said. "We don't know if a lot of people will show up, or nobody will."
Maple Weekend runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and March 29 and 30. The event runs all through New York state, and features other maple farms in Niagara and Erie counties.
For Maple Weekend, Gaeta, a retired research scientist, and Goodman, a retired truck driver, plan on having demonstrations on how to tap Maple trees and how to make syrup, as well as samples and syrup available for purchase.
While the "sugar house" is on Gaeta's property, the majority of the Sugar Maple trees are located on Goodman's eight-acres of land on Upper Mountain Road. Getting sap from the trees is contingent on the weather, Gaeta said, specifically cold nights and warm days, a cycle that keeps the sap flowing, especially at the beginning of spring.
"We need mother nature to cooperate," Goodman said. "We're at her mercy."
Because they're a small operation, Goodman said, they don't have the vacuum lines larger farms use to get sap out of the trees. They use around 140 taps, and check the buckets the sap drains into every day. Once the buckets fill up with sap, they're dumped into a large tank, so the sap can be driven to the "sugar house."
Once there, the process gets more complicated. The sap goes through several rounds of filtration, reverse osmosis to remove the water and then gets boiled down, eventually turning into syrup. Based on the time of year, the syrup may be light amber, medium amber, dark amber or an extra dark amber made for cooking. The darker the color, the stronger the maple flavor, Gaeta said.
"In a way, it's not complicated," he said. "You take sap and boil it to remove the water."
The amount of sugar in each bottle has to be exact, due to state regulations, Gaeta said.
"You can't put maple syrup in a bottle if it isn't 66.9 percent sugar," he said.
The whole process, from collecting sap to bottling the syrup, can take several days, Goodman said.
Gaeta said they'd eventually like to get a kitchen license, so they'd be able to make more than just the syrup.
Whether they make a lot of money in the maple syrup business or not is almost inconsequential to both men. It's the love of making the syrup that matters.
"I love everything from being outside to making the syrup," Gaeta said. "The fragrance of the maple just permeates the air. It's a wonderful smell."Maple Weekend events in Niagara and Orleans counties • Gaeta Family Farm, 3789 Ridge Road, Cambria, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, as well as 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 29 and 30. The farm has demonstrations on how sap is collected and how it is boiled down into syrup planned. • Wolf Maple Products, 9355 Chestnut Ridge Road, Middleport, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, as well as 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 29 and 30. They will have a petting zoo, demonstrations on making maple syrup and a tractor ride. • Boy Scout Troop 23 is holding a pancake breakfast at Middleport Fire Hall, 28 Main St., from 7 a.m. to noon Sunday. Adults are $6, kids 5-12 are $4, and children 4 and under are free. • The Kiwanis Club of Niagara Wheatfield is holding a pancake breakfast at American Legion Post 1451, 6525 Ward Road, Sanborn on Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon. • The Shelby Volunteer Fire Company, 4677 South Gravel Road, Shelby Center, is holding a pancake breakfast on Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Adults are $8, with kids under 10 $4. Contact reporter Michael Canfield at 439-9222, ext. 6246, or follow him on Twitter @MikeCanfield36.