Farm: Waterfall Farm
Location: Warrensville, Ashe County, NC
Operator: Doug Munroe
Production: Produce, Syrup, Ornamentals
“What blows my mind about getting the RAFI grant is that I am able to go from a system where I was processing 30 gal of sap in 3 hours to an evaporator that processes 50 gal in one hour. It’s going to be a huge help.”
Up on Three Top Mountain over looking a vista of Ashe County’s rolling hills, lies Waterfall Farm, operated by Doug Munroe and family. Munroe specializes in growing ornamental trees and shrubs for landscaping, He purchased the land in 1973 and has been growing ornamentals and pond-raised trout to sell at the local farmer’s market. Doug used the land to supplement his income first by growing pole beans and summer squash for the Ashe County Bean Market. Then he started growing trees for the nursery market and, for some time, producing Fraser firs like many other landowners in Ashe County. Munroe has a considerable stand of sugar maples on his property that he always dreamed of tapping in order to increase his farm income and move toward producing a good that could be consumed and enjoyed by the local High Country community. He has been practicing sustainable management of the woods on his property for 29 years, using selective harvesting and thinning to encourage the growth of sugar maples that are relatively abundant on his farm. For those 29 years, he always anticipated tapping the trees and making maple syrup but never had the capacity to do so economically.
Most believe that sugar maples are not abundant so far South and that the climate is too warm to have a long enough period of sap production. The Munroe farm, however, is situated in a very unique area for the Southeast; with high mountains and soils adequate for thriving sugar maples, Ashe County and some surrounding areas in the High Country are the farthest Southern extent in the range for adequate sugaring.
“There are no other maple syrup producers in Ashe County at present, even though sugar maple trees are the most dominant wild trees in the Amphibolite mountains in the western part of Ashe County.” -Doug Munroe
Five years prior to being awarded a TCRF grant, Munroe finally began tapping his trees, producing just enough for personal home use and small samples for his friends. He has been evaporating the sap in his backyard over a makeshift cinderblock fire pit, using a 30 gallon batch pan. The TCRF grant allows Doug to expand into a sugaring operation that is economically viable. He will use the award to increase his infrastructure, including materials to expand to 500 taps, a 735 gallon storage tank for sap, a larger evaporator, and a “sugar shack” to house his operation, store the collected sap, and protect it from the elements. The lumber for the framing and siding for the house will come from timber harvested and sawn on the property. He will enlist the help of a local horse-logger to harvest the wood from the forest to cause the least amount of damage to the ecosystem that supports his sugaring operation.
“What blows my mind about getting the RAFI grant is that I am able to go from a system where I was processing 30 gal of sap in 3 hours to an evaporator that processes 50 gal in one hour. It’s going to be a huge help.” – Doug Munroe
Munroe hopes that he can establish cash flow with the syrup sales before the nursery season starts so that he won’t have to borrow money to start the season. He anticipates adding approximately $15,000 gross income during a season from the maple syrup. His son and daughter have also expressed interest in taking over the farm at some point and are currently active in helping with the sugaring operation. It seems as though sugaring could be a prolific industry in the High Country of North Carolina and Doug Munroe and his children may be the ones to frontier the underutilized but abundant forest resource of North Carolina’s western edge.
Doug talks about his sugar shack and making maple syrup: