WESTFIELD, Pa. (WETM) – Though it may look like an unassuming family business at first glance, Patterson Farms boasts the largest maple syrup operation in Pennsylvania, with thousands upon thousands of taps that make syrup and maple products for maple lovers around the world. And the couple running the show on this fourth-generation farm shows no signs of slowing down because there’s one factor they understand to be crucial to their business: family.
Terry and Terri Patterson opened their farm to the public for Potter-Tioga’s 18th Annual Maple Weekend on March 19, along with farms across the two counties. Visitors could see just how syrup makes it from the trees all the way to their breakfast plates. Terry said he always tries to keep this event educational for guests, explaining the process of tapping the trees, showing how the sap gets boiled and explaining the history. A map even hung on the wall in their barn, outlining the northeast United States and southeast section of Canada. This region alone provides the entire global supply of maple syrup.
But running this farm is nothing new for the Pattersons. They have about 83,000 taps that eventually equal more than 18,000 gallons of syrup (the average ratio of sap-to-syrup is 43:1) that get shipped all over the world. And that doesn’t take into account the mountain of other maple-infused products they sell, including maple popcorn, maple sugar, bourbon-infused syrup, maple cotton candy, maple covered nuts, and more.
Terry and Terri are the fourth generation in the family to run the farm. Terry’s great grandfather started the business primarily as a dairy farm, and it stayed this way as it was passed down to his grandfather and then his father. But eventually, the focus of the farm had to change. And now, the Pattersons say Terry’s father, Richard, is the reason the operation is as big as it is.
“In the 80’s is when the dairy market just tanked. So he expanded the maple side of it,” Terri said of her father-in-law. “He got rid of the dairy; he brought beef cattle in to keep up with the pastures and the barn. But this is what he expanded.”
They explained that Richard—who would happily welcome people into his home for coffee and a chat—grew the operation with the help of his family, specifically his sister and his aunt. Terri said that Richard’s aunt was a retired school teacher who took the business on the road, building a clientele of huge commercial accounts in the Washington DC and Arlington area through weekly farmers markets. In fact, his aunt, now in her 80’s, still receives deliveries from the homestead for her clients.
The sugarmasters said that they’re now able to keep running at this pace because they’ve embraced technology. Among the miles and miles of tubing in their woods, there are dozens and dozens of sensors that can alert them remotely if something goes wrong. They said that a huge portion of the process can be done right from their cellphones.
“We can cut a lot of steps off, go a different way, make a better product, and… we kind of go with the slogan that ‘Here’s where technology meets the backwoods’,” Terry explained.
And after Richard passed away, the Pattersons said it was hugely important to make sure the farm stayed in the family and the family in the farm.
“His dad wanted us to keep going with it,” Terri said. “There were some questions when he passed away, ‘Oh… he’s not here, they’re gonna close up?’ No. That was his goal. The reason why he left things the way he did is he knew that [Terry] would continue going with it.”
And during the event, it became obvious just how important the Pattersons’ family and friends are in their work.
Their son happily greeted visitors at the door, encouraging them to try a few of the free samples before sending them on their way for a tour of the farm. And Terry quipped with his sister as they served pancakes and sausage to guests (“Don’t be shy with that syrup!” Terry said).
But as with any family farm, there’s always the question of what will happen next? And given the nature of the agriculture industry, the Pattersons’ answer isn’t particularly surprising.
“You just never know what tomorrow brings,” Terri said.
They have plans to expand and make their operation more efficient, but they admitted that current supply chain problems and soaring fuel costs (the evaporator runs on diesel) have presented a fresh challenge. And this comes on the heels of the peak of the COVID pandemic which also hit them hard.
Despite this, they remain hopeful to keep this business running for years to come. “Nothing’s set in stone,” Terry said. “And it’s always been that way. It’s the passion of growing.”