A rich family tradition
Maple syrup festival flows into 22nd year
Saturday, February 23, 2013 4:00 AM
It's been about 30 years since Michael Goering tapped his first maple tree.
Kristi Reisenbichler stocks shelves of maple syrup in the store at Leane and Michael’s Sugarbush in advance of this weekend’s festival. The festival continues on March 2 and 3.
The hobby started when he bought a piece of property outside of Salem, Ind., where a friend noticed a large number of healthy-looking maples. It didn't take long for Goering to tap into those the trees and produce his first harvest.
Three decades later, sap continues to flow.
"Mike just really got into it, obviously, and it's just grown every year," said his wife, Leane.
Now the chance experiment has turned into a bustling outdoor event for the Washington County family, which welcomes nearly 10,000 visitors every winter. This year marks the 22nd annual festival at Leane and Michael's Sugarbush, located at 321 North Garrison Hollow Road near Salem.
About 50 miles from Madison, the property sits down a hill and has a small, picturesque stream that flows behind the sugarhouse - which is where the sap is boiled and produced into syrup.
The Goering family produces 1,000 gallons of pure maple syrup each season and hosts the festival each year on the last weekend of February and first weekend of March. Fifty Gallons of sap makes one gallon of syrup.
The festival will kick off this Saturday and Sunday and continue March 2 and 3. It runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no entry or parking fee.
The event includes pioneer- and Native American-style games; country, bluegrass and Christian music; and demonstrations for all ages.
About 40 food and merchandise vendors, selling everything from kettle corn, home-made wooden toys, soap and quilts are expected to set up on site. There will be a special area for kids, which includes pioneer and Native American dress up, arts and crafts, candle making and games.
In addition, visitors who come early can test out some of the maple syrup during a waffle and pancake breakfast in the family's sugarhouse.
When the festival began more than two decades ago, Leane said she was looking for a way to help with the family business.
"We had small children at the time, and I just wanted to do something where I could be more involved," she said. "And we wanted to retail more of our stuff, rather than just wholesale."
These days, the Goering's children are older and each have a different job in the company and for the festival.
This year, Michael and Leane Goering's youngest son, Caleb, 20, will host an adventure tour, which will allow festival-goers a chance to learn how to properly tap maple trees. The tours will run three times a day - 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., - and will cost $10 for adults and $5 for those younger than 18. Tours are limited to 10 people.
"All three of our children are very involved in this," Leane said. "They see the success of it, and they really enjoy it."
Late winter is the prime season for maple syrup harvest, Leane said, which means festival-goers actually get to see the production process taking place.
"A lot of people ask why in the world we have a festival this time of year, but that's why we have it because we're actually making syrup," she said.
The back and forth temperatures during the winter actually determine the quality of the harvest year. A winter of constant frozen temperatures often makes for a dismal harvest because the sap has not had a chance to freeze and then thaw out, Leane said.
This season is shaping up to be a good one for the Goerings, and temperatures are expected to climb up into the 50s over the weekend.
Earlier this week, Leane said the sap was flowing at 250 gallons an hour.
The syrup is graded and sold in various quantities, even by the gallon. Indiana maple syrup tends to be darker and have a fuller flavor than syrup from the East Coast, the family's website says.
For prices, more information or directions to the festival, visit the family's website: www.lmsugarbush.com. Visitors also can call at (812) 967-4491, toll free at (877) 841-8851 or visit their facebook page at www.facebook.com/lmsugarbush.
Over the years, Leane said the festival has been kind to her and the rest of the family. But she said the event is about much more than promoting the family business and making a profit.
"It's the intangibles that we all enjoy about it; the sense of purpose and the sense of working together," she said. "There are just a lot of priceless things about it that are not related to money at all."