ATTICA, N.Y. — Nearly 115 maple producers and enthusiasts gathered at the Attica Central School for the annual Western New York Maple School and Trade Show. The 2018 event experienced tremendous growth in participation, support and vendor representation.

Debra Welch of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming County organized the event with the support of the Attica Central School FFA Chapter.

Welch said she was extremely impressed by the motivated and professional student leaders.

“They helped vendors get registered, make payments and check in,” Welch said. “They all look so professional and sharp in their official dress. I could not be more proud of their efforts and I could not do this event without them.”

Some new and exciting workshops were added including topics such as how to grade maple syrup, how the New York Grown and Certified Program can fit into your operation, as well as old favorites including maple production for beginners, marketing maple products, and value-added maple.

The marketing maple products program was presented by Lyle and Dottie Merle of Merle Maple Farm in Attica. Merle Maple produces a line of pure maple syrup, maple candy, maple cream and more. They sell many of their products in wholesale and retail capacities and ship daily.

Lyle opened the session with a general overview and Dottie dove into the nuts and bolts of what they do and how they make it happen.

“We have to keep logs of the products we make and we have to keep track of the pH level and what temperatures we are putting it in the jar at. This allows us to maintain the proper food safety licensing,” Dottie said. “Once the product is made, we send our product and the recipe to the Cornell Research Lab in Geneva, New York, and they test our product to make sure it is safe and return the analysis with an overview of the nutritional contents.”

Additional testing conversations included a grant awarded by the Genesee Valley Regional Market. The Western New York Maple Producers have gotten some testing equipment that is housed at the regional facility because it cannot be moved around a lot. The regional market can test for different things including the alcohol level of aged bourbon barrel syrup.

The Merles then discussed promotion of product off of the farm.

“Each fall, we head out and do some fall craft shows.” Dottie said. One of their tips for craft and trade shows is to purchase a tent.

“When people are a block away, they can see us and recognize our logo,” Dottie said. “We also put our cotton candy front and center because it draws people in.”

The Merles also recommended risers for a booth to make things look nice and to display products. Risers also provide a safe space for your money and things you do not want your customers to see.

“Another wonderful thing is sampling,” Dottie said. “Sampling sells products; there is no two ways about it. We have designed a sample rock with bottles; we put it outside facing the public so that the public can taste it, like it, pick it up and purchase it. Sampling is essential if you want to sell product in this type of environment.”

The Merles emphasized being prepared for events with business cards, product brochures, appropriate signage, and a plan to accept payment including cash and credit cards.

Beyond trade shows and craft shows, Dottie shared that social media is a huge opportunity to get your name out there and connect with the public.

“I just put a splash on Facebook about our fudge and a woman from the Carolinas called and said ‘I always get fudge for Christmas’ and proceeded to order a few gift baskets and reminded me to have her nephew include fudge in his gift basket to her this year,” she said. “It is simple, easy, and I get a lot of likes.”

Dottie reminded the few dozen attendees at the session to bundle and package items together to upsell products and make an easy gift for customers. She shared tips for packaging and shrink wrapping so the products do not move around during shipping or gifting.

“Having gift baskets on hand whenever anyone calls allows you to get them shipped right out and then they will know you have them and come back for more,” she said.

The 2019 Western New York Maple School will be held at Attica Central School the first weekend in December.

“We are looking forward to continue growing our school and offering exciting topics,” Welch said. “We are also looking forward to Maple Weekend in March and the New York Maple Tour based in Hamburg, New York and extending into Erie, Wyoming, and surrounding counties.”

Alicia Keller is a freelance writer in western New York.