Nick Perrone, a Senior at Warrensburg High School, heads out of his sugarhouse to collect sap to boil into Maple syrup. Conducting an operation that includes 500 taps, Perrone is considered one of the youngest full-scale maple entrepreneurs in New York State.
When most teenagers head home these days after studying in school all day, they relax with a video game or another form of recreation.
Not Nick Perrone of Warrensburg High — he heads into the woods behind his home to collect maple sap, check lines of his vacuum-operated sap-collection system, and perhaps split some wood and boil down some maple syrup for sale.
Perrone, 18, operates his own maple syrup production enterprise on Truesdale Hill Road, and some say he may be the leading maple entrepreneur of his age in the state.
He now is tapping 500 trees — a considerable expansion from his prior two years in maple syrup production.
March 29, Perrone gave a tour of his sugarhouse and outlying facilities as he collected sap and readied his evaporator and other processing equipment for the heavy sap flows expected over the next few days.
“I mix tradition with efficiency,” Perrone said as he showed off his wood-fired evaporator with a turbocharged firebox he fashioned to provide for even, consistent heat under the sap tank.
“There’s something special about maple syrup that’s been boiled down over a wood fire,” he added.
The modern aspects of his setup include a clear filter press for maximum purity and convenient monitoring, Perrone said as he emphasized he’d be seeking blue ribbons for his syrup’s taste, clarity and quality at upcoming competitions.
Behind his house, his “sugar bush,” or the stand of maple trees he outfits with 260 taps, is spread over 30 acres. Some of the land belongs to neighbors who are helpful in his enterprise, he said. Perrone also has about 260 other trees tapped in plots several miles away between Warrensburg and Lake George. Perrone plans on processing about 1,000 gallons of sap per day this year. To transport the sap back to his sugar house, Nick has outfitted a one-ton dump truck with a 300-gallon sap tank.
New York State Maple Producers Association official Greg Zimpfer of Attica NY said this week that Perrone could be the youngest of the professional maple producers in the state, considering the teen’s high level of production.
“We know of one or two producers his age in New York State, but nowhere near that production level,” Zimpfer said in a phone interview. “It’s phenomenal for his age — we’d like to see more people like him producing, so the next generation can step up and move forward in maple production.”
Although Perrone already has a large-scale operation, almost the size of Zimpfer’s, the 18-year-old is planning to quadruple it by next year’s season — with not only more taps and a larger evaporator, but with a reverse-osmosis equipment that can save time and fuel by dewatering the sap.
Also, Nick Perrone is planning to double the size of his sugarhouse. The expansion wouldn’t just accommodate the additional production equipment, it would also feature a commercial-grade kitchen so he can serve pancake breakfasts to spring tourists.
Perrone built his existing sugarhouse, which now hosts visitors on weekends, with the help of his father, Albert Perrone.
Perrone started young in maple sugaring
Nick first became interested in maple sugar production when he was about five years old, visiting a neighbor’s Christmas tree and maple farm. During that holiday season years ago, Nick’s father took him to John Farrar’s place to cut a Christmas tree to take home — and they took a tour of Farrar’s sugarhouse.
Then when Nick was 13 or 14, he planted a stand of 150 Christmas trees, which he’s been tending over the years.
A few years later in 2012, he started in maple production, tapping six maple trees and boiling sap in an evaporator he fashioned from a stainless-steel restaurant pan stuck into a hole he cut in the side of a 55-dallon drum that served as a firebox.
“It was a bad year for sap, and I made only three pints,” he said, noting he and his family enjoyed the syrup he made, although it was a little watery.
Within weeks that year, he asked his parents if he could build a sugar shack and move up to full-scale production, he recalled this week.
“I didn’t think my dad would go for it, but the next day, he was out in our back yard, marking out where we’d be digging the foundation,” Nick Perrone added.
The Warrensburg Central Senior added that his neighbors have been helpful. Joe Mantovi, his next-door neighbor, graded a driveway back to his sugarhouse. Landowners behind the Perrone property allowed him to tap trees. Farrar helped him tap trees and lay down vacuum lines through his sugar bush this February, because Nick was recovering from a torn ACL due to a sports injury, he said. Perrone was injured playing basketball for Warrensburg High — he’s a standout player on the team.
“My crutches weren’t working too well getting through the snow,” he said with a smile. “I owe Mr. Farrar some work this summer.”
And this summer is when he’s likely to be doubling the size of his 12-feet-by-20-feet sugarhouse — to boost production and host more visitors.
Perrone concluded his tour by talking of how he enjoys continuing an age-old tradition that started with Native Americans. He noted that he wants to obtain a horse-drawn sleigh and antique sugaring equipment and put them on display for tourists — to showcase the maple operations a century ago in the Adirondacks.
“I’d like to show others how people up here lived and worked many years ago,” he said, noting he also plans to expand to as many as 5,000 taps within several years.
Albert Perrone glanced at his son finishing off an afternoon’s work in the woods.
“You don’t see young kids wanting to work hard like this anymore,” he remarked.
Nick Perrone heard the quip and responded.
“They always say, it’s not work if you enjoy doing it,” he said.