SARANAC - Sixteen-year-old Nathan Casey works hard.
On any given day during the winter and early days of spring, he can be found diligently checking hundreds of taps he has in maple trees near his home. Producing maple syrup started as a hobby for him eight years ago after missing a field trip to Parker Family Maple Farm in West Chazy and it's something that's only grown from there.
"I didn't really know what [producing maple syrup] was all about, so I wanted to learn more about," Nathan recalled. "When I did, I really got an interest in it."
Nathan asked his parents, Jim Casey and Nancy M. Keysor, if he could try making maple syrup at home. He started by tapping a tree and boiling some sap on the stove in the family kitchen, and things slowly progressed from there. Nathan's operation started out with about five taps, boiling the collected sap down in a turkey cooker in the garage.
"I told his mother that he would never want to do that again. We had sugar all over the garage, all over the cars," Jim recalled, laughing.
Nathan eventually worked his way up to tapping 200 trees on his family's Strackville Road property, but didn't stop there. He asked friends and neighbors if they wouldn't mind him tapping their trees, and their positive responses increased his production tenfold.
"It's gotten bigger and bigger and I've got close to 2,000 taps now," said Nathan.
"We had a lean-to where he did everything and the lean-to went to a sugar shack, then the sugar shack went to a bigger one and now he wants an even bigger one," said Jim. "Everything's bigger with him."
However, it hasn't been easy. Nathan's parents have helped him with some of the expenses along the way, but the majority of the financial burden has been on his shoulders.
"He sold his four-wheelers and other things to get his business started," said Jim. "Whatever he makes, he puts right back into [the business]."
The maple sugaring business has also proved to be hard work, as the Saranac Central High School student attests. On a daily basis, in addition to checking his taps, he has to check holding tanks that collect the sap and, when necessary, has his mother help him transport the product home to process.
"It's a lot of work, late nights and stuff like that," he said.
"He works very hard, but he really enjoys what he's doing," said Nancy.
Nathan could use some help, but doesn't seem to want it, said his father.
"He wants to do it all on his own," Jim said.
Over the years, he has saved enough money to purchase a reverse osmosis system which automatically removes between 50-75 percent of the water found naturally in sap. The system cuts down the number of hours Nathan had to boil the sap down manually to remove the water.
"I can start it up before I go to school and when I get home I can have however many gallons of sap concentrated down," said Nathan. "It makes it a lot easier."
"He doesn't have the most state-of-the-art equipment right now because he's doing it for as cheap as he can, but he's working toward it," said Jim. "Everything's very expensive when it comes to sugaring."
Despite the challenges he faces, Nathan presses on. Each year, he adds roughly 200 new taps, thanks to the generosity of people like John Tedford, who learned of Nathan's maple sugaring operation through a friend. Impressed with Nathan's ambition and wanting to help him in his efforts, John offered Nathan the opportunity to tap 750 trees on his property, which Nathan gladly accepted.
"He's a wonderful kid and he's doing a great job with it," said John. "How many kids at 16 years old are whole-heartedly into something like this? He's just incredible."
"I thought it was great," Nathan said of John's offer. "It helped double the amount of syrup I can produce."
That's impressive news to Patricia Parker with Parker Family Maple Farm. The Parkers help Nathan sell some of his bulk syrup, which can often result in as many as few large barrels per week.
"He's a nice kid," said Patricia. "He works very hard. Especially for being only 16."
The rest of the maple syrup Nathan produces he sells from his home in one-gallon or quart-size jugs.
"I sell it to whoever wants some," he said.
The young entrepreneur has impressed many, including his parents, who see this as a hobby their son will stick with for a long time.
"As his mother, I'm looking at this as an investment in his future," said Nancy. "If someone told me years ago he was going to get this involved, I wouldn't have believed it. I'm very proud of him."
"I don't think he's ever going to stop sugaring," said Jim.