In 2012, Ryan Annetts, who was working in immigration, had a conversation with his best friend Jake Fairbaim that changed the course of both of their lives.
“At the time, Jake was making gelato and buying maple syrup from a friend down the road,” Annetts recalled. “I asked him why he was buying the syrup when he had his own sap house. During that conversation, we decided to give the business a go.”
They named their business Tree Juice Maple Syrup and Fairbaim’s brother John, who had previously tapped trees on the family’s property, taught them the ropes. It was so warm during that first year that they were outside tapping in t-shirts, commending themselves on their brilliant idea. They fell in love with the work instantly and persevered through the next season, walking the hills in snow shoes due to the freezing temperatures.
From day one, they created a business that was a little different from other maple syrup producers in the area — they built their business through their CSA (community supported agriculture) program. This program allowed consumers, who become members, to purchase a “share” of maple syrup from their farm. The payment is provided upfront, helping the farmers plan for the season, and, in their case, purchase new bottles and taps. Initially, this gave them the start-up money they needed to begin their venture.
Annetts, who had previously run a meat and chicken CSA, knew how to develop the program and believed that some of those members would join his new venture. In 2012, he invited his former CSA members, along with their friends and neighbors to join Tree Juice’s CSA — 16 agreed. But the numbers quickly grew; two years later, in 2014, they had increased their membership to 172 people throughout the Hudson Valley.
“Once people heard what we were doing, they shared it with their friends and it exploded,” Annetts explained.
Their CSA is set up a bit differently than the typical vegetable share. Instead of weekly pick-ups throughout the season, Tree Juice provides customers with a once-per-season pick-up, where they collect their bulk purchase (half gallon, full gallon or multiple gallons are available) that they’ve received at a 10 percent discount. Because of the size of the Hudson Valley, Tree Juice has several pick-up locations: Lazy Crazy Acres (their farm), the Pleasantville Farmer’s Market and in Woodstock. In the fall, if there is syrup remaining, Tree Juice will send an email to their members offering refills at a 10% discount.
All CSA members have the opportunity to select from six flavors: traditional (all varieties available, but dark is the favorite), vanilla-infused, bourbon barrel aged, rye whiskey barrel, zesty lemon, or the seasonal flavor.