Since the late 1800s, the Parsons family has made maple syrup from the trees surrounding Harwood lake in Charlevoix, Michigan. Now, fifth-generation sisters Amber and Katie are working hard to grow the company. They have added new made-with-maple products and, in 2016, opened their first store and café in downtown Charlevoix.
We interviewed Amber to get her story on what inspired her to continue the family legacy and what she loves most about maple syrup season:
You say you are the 5th generation of Parsons carrying on the tradition of making maple syrup on your family farm. Tell me a little bit about Harwood Gold!
We have been making maple syrup in my family since 1898. I am the 5th generation to take the family business over and expand it to what it is today. I took the business over from my parents in 2014 and opened our store downtown in the summer of 2016. It has been an honor and joy to serve our local community and continue our family legacy.
How did you get started? Have you always known you wanted to continue the family legacy?
I always knew I wanted to own my own business but I wasn’t certain I’d return to Charlevoix, or the family farm. My Dad approached me in 2012 saying he and my mom were ready to retire. After much consideration, I decided to return to northern Michigan a year and ½ later and started working with my parents learning about the farm and maple syrup from a business perspective. After a year working with them at Farmers Markets, getting to know our customers and the product, I could really see the potential to make something more of the business and product line.
What is maple syrup season like?
Maple Syrup season is a very special time. It brings back a lot of childhood memories of us all sitting around the evaporator watching my Grandpa and Dad (and my parents' close friends) make maple syrup. Lots of laughter and an ease about life. The whole process is very nostalgic. The smell of the steam rolling off the evaporator brings back all those special times; just like it was yesterday.
Do you have a favorite part?
I don’t. I love it all! The preparatory phase is exciting because it means a lot of action is on the way (along with warm weather :) Collecting and boiling brings long hard days but also means that production is underway. And the end of the season is always welcome because we’re rewarded with sunny warm days and a finished crop.
What are some of the challenges you face?
Weather. Making maple syrup is totally weather dependent. We’re at the mercy of mother nature during the sugaring season. Sometimes we have a great production year and other years don’t compare. But that comes with the territory and a risk we’ve been willing to take for over 124 years. It’s a labor or love.
What do you find most exciting?
Developing new products!
Is the syrup the same each year?
Yes and no. When working with mother nature you never know what you’re going to get. We have ways and certain tools we use to produce, monitor and measure the process, but there certainly are changing variables from year to year.
Of course you have delicious maple syrup – are there unique flavors or products we should know about?
Our maple syrup is one of the best on the market. We’re very proud to produce a high quality product and have a great following because of that standard for excellence. All of our ‘Made with Maple’ products are only sweetened using maple syrup. They’re unique because of this and because we made a standard product much healthier. Most of our products only have 2-3 grams of sugar per serving.
What food do you like to eat with your maple syrup?
I love to marinate shrimp in our sriracha and toss it on the grill. Easy and delicious summer meal!
Do you have a favorite recipe that includes a Harwood Gold product?
Pad Thai - sriracha. So delicious!
What are your favorite childhood memories?
Most of my memories from growing up on our centennial farm were that we were free range kids. We had 200 acres at our disposal complete with a lake, various streams, vast open fields and dense rich forests. It was a whole world of wonder: Fishing and swimming in Harwood Lake. Making ATV trails in the woods. Playing hide and seek in hay bales. Planting flower and vegetable gardens…etc…We were busy exploring from sun up to sun down. Being inside wasn’t an option. And I am the youngest of 4 kids. So if I wanted to be part of the action, I had to learn how to keep up. Good thing I’m a fast learner and strong willed! (laughter)
If a friend were visiting Charlevoix for the first time, what would you recommend they see?
Harwood Gold Cafe & Farm - beaches - earl young mushroom houses - paddle boarding, hiking, and sailing.
Is there anything you are looking forward to?
I’m always looking forward to what's next. I’m a very ambitious person and have a lot of ideas and passions for the business. I look forward to continuing to evolve it over time.
Thank you so much Amber! We really enjoyed getting to know you and learning about Harwood Gold. @harwoodgold