From left are LEME Co-chairman Daryl Sheets; Albion FFA member and Northwestern High School senior, Autumn Sanders; Owner of Casbohm's Maple and Honey on Sherman Road in Albion, Chris Casbohm; Albion FFA Member and Northwestern senior Taylor Ryan; LEME committee member, Jim Brown; and LEME Co-chairman and Owner of Bortles Sugar Shack in Linesville, Jim Bortles.
Today's Lake Erie Maple Expo (LEME) trade show and seminar sessions drew more than 350 people to Northwestern High School at the time of opening ceremonies at 8:30 a.m.
People travelled to Albion this weekend from throughout the United States and Canada to learn about new technology, business opportunities, recipes and to network in the rapidly growing maple industry.
Yesterday attendees went to workshops and toured and sugar shacks and farms in Albion, Cranesville and Edinboro.
"This expo draws people in, they get to see recent technology, share ideas and go home with something to improve their processes," LEME co-chairman Jim Bortles said. "We've got people like Dr. Tim Perkins and Mike Farrell - these are the movers and the shakers of the sap industry."
The Albion Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter co-hosted the event, and members assisted in coordinating the day's activities. Julie Schmidt's consumer science students and FFA officers made and sold treats.
Vendors, speakers and attendees came from afar - mostly the "Maple Belt," which reaches from Maine down to Virginia and swings up around the Great Lakes, through Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. People came from Quebec and Ontario, Canada.
All things maple syrup were covered in today's seminars, including new vacuum and tubing system technologies, how to transform a hobby into a profitable business, creation of maple peanut butter, marshmallows and other confections and a look into the up and coming maple beverage industry. Samples of new "maple water" were distributed.
"It really is impressive to see, when you have an idea that inspires passion in people, they will go where that idea is being implemented," Northwestern High School Principal Dan Shreve said. "For four years now, that idea of Maple Expo has been implemented here at Northwestern. We are proud of our FFA's initiative, along with Mr. Gary Bilek, who was an educator at Northwestern and is a local maple syrup producer. Without him this couldn't happen."
At the opening ceremony, FFA Adviser and agricultural studies teacher Anthony Honeycutt said Northwestern is now fundraising for a Sugar Shack and outdoor environmental classroom that will be built behind the high school in 2016.
This year, Northwestern was a $25,000 grant recipient for the America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education program, sponsored by the Monsanto Fund. The grant and another $25,000 the district matched will go toward the sugar shack project. To build an ADA compliant pavilion, $29,000 more is needed.
"We'll be able to do a lot of homesteading and neat stuff out there," Honeycutt said. "There are only a couple school districts in the nation that have a sugar shack on their grounds."
Kate Ziehm, the editor of Maple News, a publication that is sent to more than 10,000 people in the maple industry nationwide, said Northwestern's sugar shack program is unique because it takes a lot of time, money and energy to get these structures built.
Ziehm said over the last 12 years she has seen significant growth in the maple industry, and Pennsylvania is highly untapped, leaving a lot of potential for growth right here.
"A lot of money is starting to come into the industry, because it's a very good industry marketing-wise," Ziehm said. "The health benefits of maple syrup are so much more - it's natural, natural sugar."
The event wrapped up this afternoon with closing ceremonies conducted by the FFA. The Northwest PA Maple Producers Association, PA Maple Syrup Producers Council, Ohio Maple Producers Association, Western New York Maple Producers Association and the Albion FFA will sponsor the fifth annual Lake Erie Maple Expo Nov. 11 and 12, 2016.
Check out the attached photos from today's events.