The Staats family sells maple syrup in various sizes as well as specialty items like maple caramel corn, pancake mix, granola and coffee.
The Staats family sells maple syrup in various sizes as well as specialty items like maple caramel corn, pancake mix, granola and coffee. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
    STURGEON BAY, Wis. – For six decades, the Staats family has collected sap from their farm’s hundred-year-old maple trees to make maple syrup. A pastime started by Milton Staats in the early 1960s has grown into a business serving customers all over the U.S. Owned by Ed and Deb Staats and Ken and Margie Staats, CVF Maple produces about 1,000 gallons of maple syrup every year.
    March is their busy month as they tap trees and turn sap into syrup and other value-added products. Brothers Ed and Ken, who learned the maple syrup making process from their father, Milton, handle the front-end sap collection and syrup production while their wives take charge of retail product production and sales.  
    “It’s a hobby gone wild,” Ed said. “When we get done making syrup, it’s almost time to start fieldwork.”
    A three-time host of the Door County Breakfast on the Farm, Ed and Deb, owner of Country View Farms near Sturgeon Bay, milk 450 cows and crop 2,000 acres with help from their son-in-law, Josh Tonn. The farm employs 16 full-time and part-time people including family members. Ed oversees the operation and helps with feeding while Deb does the farm’s bookwork, schedules milkers and cuts hay. Ken and Margie used to farm down the road from Ed and Deb but are now retired.
    Freezing nights and warm days are required to tap trees, and Ed said the trees are usually ready to tap by the end of February. However, it could be later if there is a lot of snow on the ground. The Staatses place 2,600 taps on trees covering an area of 10-15 acres.
    “Bigger trees can have three to four taps, while a smaller tree will have just one tap,” Ed said. “We can’t tap the same place each year so we put the 5/16 inch hole in a new spot each time.”
    The family uses a tubing system to collect sap. They were using up to 1,000 buckets when they decided to incorporate tubing as well. The Staatses used both methods for a period of time before replacing all buckets with tubing five years ago. Sap is collected at two sites in old bulk tanks and picked up with a trailer once the tank is full, which may occur multiple times per day.  
    “We’re pulling sap a quarter-mile from each side of the tank,” Ed said.
    Once collected, syrup is made the old-fashioned way by boiling the sap over a wood fire.
    Maple syrup was made in a small shack alongside the dairy until 2012 when the family built a new building for syrup production in its place. Divided into two sections, one half of the building contains an 800-gallon bulk tank that sap is pumped into as soon as it arrives from the woods; a reverse osmosis machine that removes three-fourths of the sap’s water; and an evaporator which boils the sap, turning it into maple syrup.
    “Sap turns into syrup as you boil the water away,” Ed said. “It takes 40,000-45,000 gallons of sap to make approximately 1,000 gallons of syrup. We remove 40 gallons of water per one gallon of syrup, and the water coming off the sap is crystal clear as it comes off the RO machine.”
    The sap is cooked at high temperatures in the wood-fired evaporator, which runs 10-12 hours each day, producing 20 gallons of syrup per hour.
    “Before we installed the RO, we used to only get 5 gallons of syrup per hour,” Ed said.
    The evaporator is a continuous flow system in which sap goes in one end and comes out as syrup on the other. Wood is added to the fire every 15-20 minutes, and Ed said the boiling process impacts flavor.
    “You want the maple taste to linger,” Ed said. “That’s what gives maple syrup a nice flavor. Everybody’s syrup tastes a little bit different, and syrup made earlier in the season is sweeter than syrup made later in the season.”   
    On the other side of the building is a state-licensed kitchen where Deb and Margie bottle the syrup and make specialty items like maple caramel corn, pancake mix and granola. They also sell maple-flavored coffee made for them by a local roaster.
    “We started out in a cooperative kitchen where you had to schedule time and bring your own equipment,” Deb said. “This is so much nicer.”
    The syrup is filtered twice and bottled at over 200 degrees. It is sold in quart, pint and half-pint sizes in either glass or plastic containers. Plastic bottles also come in half-gallon sizes down to 3.4-ounce sizes.
    “There’s nothing added to our syrup,” Ed said. “It’s all natural. We don’t add any sugar.”
    The sweet taste of their farm’s maple syrup has found its way into other products at CVF Maple, such as the caramel corn. A fluffy treat drizzled in maple, the caramel corn is a hard item to keep in stock.   
    “Margie is the creative brains behind our recipes,” Deb said.
    CVF Maple’s central Door County location keeps customers flowing to its doorstep. Products are sold on the farm, at the farmers market in Sturgeon Bay, and through 10 local outlets as well as a restaurant in Fish Creek and a bed and breakfast in Sturgeon Bay, both of which offer the maple syrup on their dining tables.
    “We’re fortunate to live in an area with a lot of tourists,” Ed said.
    The family also moves a great deal of product on their website, and Christmas is their busiest time.
    “This is a family affair,” Ed said. “Our children and grandchildren are involved too.”
    Besides farming and making maple syrup, the Staats family also likes to deer hunt together, and in the winter, Deb and Ed like to snowmobile. From milk to maple syrup, these dairy farmers are proud of the products produced on their family farm and are set to carry on the tradition of syrup making for generations to come.