Roberta (above, left) and Rachel Jelliff were among many Bradford County maple producers to staff the exhibit area of the Pennsylvania Maple Syrup Producers Council at the Pennsylvania Farm Show this year. Below, Don Russell (right) and his granddaughter, Meg, worked together at the Farm Show as well. They and many other family members run Russell Maple Farms north of Rome.
Story and photos by Rick Hiduk
(Originally published in the Daily Review)
The exhibit space coordinated by the Pennsylvania Maple Syrup Producers Council was a popular stop for guests of the 107th Pennsylvania Farm Show held in Harrisburg this week. Two of many producers of syrup and related products in the Commonwealth this included the Russells and the Jelliffs. They and other families helped to staff “Maple Alley” and share facts about syrup production with guests from Jan. 7 through this coming Sunday. According to the Penn State Extension, Pennsylvania consistently lands in the top ten among maple syrup production, putting out an average of 60,000 gallons per year.
The Jelliff Family started producing maple syrup as a hobby on their Bentley Creek property in 2007. Brothers Greg and Jeff Jelliff had made syrup with their neighbors when the were younger. “It was such a positive experience for them that Greg decided he wanted all of the grandsons to understand how to make maple syrup,” said their mother, Roberta Jelliff.
Grandson Andrew Jelliff was an FFA member who needed to get started on a project for his Keystone Award and decided that maple syrup production was the route to go. He completed his project and received his award in 2011 as the hobby grew into a business – Jelliff Maple Production.
“It just kind of blossomed from that,” Roberta recalled. In 2015, the family built a new facility with a gas-fired evaporator. “It’s not a storefront per se,” she explained, but we sell our product out of it.”
The variety of maple-based products sold on the Jelliff farm is impressive, ranging from syrup infused with coffee, cinnamon, vanilla, blueberry or raspberry; sweet hot sauce; maple garlic vinegar, and maple caramels and a maple caramel dip.
“The caramels are so good,” Greg’s daughter, Rachel Jelliff, said convincingly.
Roberta is proud of their maple French dressing that she modified from a recipe given to her as a young bride.
The late Harold Russell took over a seventh-generation family farm in Orwell Township dating back to 1796 in 1918. Harold had grown up on the farm, and maple production was already in his blood. Years later, grandson Don Russell and his brother were given age-appropriate tasks in the operation. “Since I was a kid, we were going into the woods to check the sap lines for leaks and getting the tanks ready for tapping,” Don related.
As they got a little older, they were involved in keeping the fire stoked for evaporation. “When I was a teen, we had to watch the evaporator at night’” said Don. “We slept during the day and got to skip school. We thought that was pretty cool.”
When asked where the business goes from here, Roberta Jelliff smiled at Rachel as she said, “That’s a good question.”
Rachel is currently a junior at Athens High School and plans to go to college to study to be a veterinarian. “I hope to come home after college and continue to help,” she maintained. And both agreed that the grandsons are still very hands-on with the operation. “The boys certainly have a passion for it. It’s definitely a great inheritance.”
“Everyone has a part to play that lightens the load for everyone else,” Roberta maintained.
Don Russell also expects his family to keep Russell Maple Farms going for decades to come. He gets plenty of help from his wife, Debbie, son and daughter-in-law Adam and Monica, granddaughter Meg and five additional grandchildren. Meg echoed his hopes, saying, “Its a labor of love. I like boiling sap.” At the Farm Show, she and Don were teaching visiting children about syrup production and engaging them in related craft activities.
The Russells helped staff the Maple Syrup area in the Main Hall on Monday and Tuesday, the Jelliffs on Wednesday and Thursday, and the Dewings of Warren Township were set to help on Thursday and Friday.