Harwood Heritage Farm
00061 Parsons Rd.
Charlevoix, MI 49686
Farmers: Dave and Terri Parsons
Products: Maple syrup, maple sugar, maple candy, maple cream, maple granola, maple toffee, maple-coated pecans, pancake mix, and gift baskets.
Favorite recipe: Finnish pancake.
Why do you love farming? It's something I grew up with, being outside, walking in the woods. It's a different environment. I enjoy it. It's a lifestyle. People keep telling me to think about retiring, but as long as I can climb up in the tractor, I'll keep doing it!
What are some challenges? The weather. What Mother Nature dishes out is never the same. Every year is different. Production can fluctuate by hundreds of gallons each year. Keeping the equipment going takes work and it's a challenge learning how to work on it.
What are you proud of about your operation? The quality of our products. It's so much easier with our new equipment to make a quality product than it was before. Our customers' stories.
What's unique about your operation? With our stainless steel system, it's very clean and you get less bacteria. It gives you a better quality product, much nicer syrup.
Advice to new farmers: It's best to work with an operation to get experience before investing the money and time in it. You have to have love and have a passion for it, as there's a lot of risk involved.
Future plans: Our son lives in Seattle and he's interested in coming back and taking over someday.
Old Memories, New Business
By Janice Benson, Taste the Local Difference
Dave and Terri Parsons, now retired, focus their full attention on their maple syrup farm. Photo by John Russell.
When it comes to maple syrup, Dave Parsons has some sweet memories.
“When I was a child, I remember watching my father hard at work in the sugar shack every year in March,” he recalls. “It was a really neat experience.”
“It was an all-night thing to keep up,” he adds. “I remember the glow of the fire and being in there on the dirt floor of the shack.
Dad would whittle while the syrup boiled, and he taught us kids to do the same.”
The fourth-generation Parsons Centennial Farm is in Charlevoix and has been in the family since 1898.
“Grandpa made maple syrup each year for sustenance, and he had pancakes every morning of his life!” laughs Dave.
Dave’s father grew up on the same farm. Eventually he started doing more farming and began raising dairy cows. Every year, though, he continued to enjoy making maple syrup for the family and selling some to the neighbors.
Dave grew up there, too, and helped his father until he graduated from high school. Then he served in the Air Force for four years.
While he was gone, something changed: “Dad bought an evaporator and when I was home on leave, I helped him move it and get it set up. When I got home from the service, we started making syrup in it, which was a big improvement from making syrup in the woods in a flat pan!”
Dad also switched from using buckets for collecting the sap to using tubing that would carry the sap directly from the trees to the farm.
“We had 1,000 sap buckets that we converted to tubing,” Dave says. “That saved so much labor.”
Back home from the service, Dave partnered with his father on the farm, milking the cows and helping expand their dairy operation.
“We began with 12 to18 cows and we expanded to 50 to 60 cows,” says Dave.
In 1985, however, they got out of the dairy business, and Dave turned to auto-body work for the next 10 years. Then he worked at a machinist at Michigan Scientific, in Charlevoix, for 11 years, before retiring in 2011.
Family Hobby, Family Business
Now he farms full-time again, raising hay in the summer and making maple syrup in the spring.
“We went from milking cows to milking trees!” he laughs.
Knowing that he would have more time for syrup, he purchased a new evaporator and a reverse osmosis system five years ago.
“It’s a stainless steel system that’s very clean and gives a better quality syrup”, says Dave. “My dad would be absolutely fascinated to see this new system. It’s less labor intensive and it’s helped us to keep doing this.”
“When we were in the old sap house, we knew we’d either have to get out or revamp our system, so we moved the operation and revamped. We bought some neighboring property that had more maple trees so we could expand.”
Dave’s wife, Terri, is as passionate about maple syrup as her husband!
She grew up in Marquette, and after college landed a job at the Ottawa School, in Petoskey. She taught special education there before winning a job at the Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District, where she taught special education students in a “one-room school.” Terri then became a teaching consultant with the ISD. She recently retired from almost 39 years in education.
It was her move to Charlevoix all those years ago that led her to Dave: A mutual friend introduced them soon after she arrived. The two fell in love and have been together ever since. When they got married, Dave’s parents built a house down the road, and Dave and Terri moved into the old family farmhouse.
“I had no idea about farm life,” laughs Terri. “But I moved on the farm and we raised our four children there.”
Now she can’t imagine anything different. “I love living out in the country, where there’s peace and quiet. You can hear the birds and the air is fresh. I love being out in the garden, seeing things grow,” she says.
Now that Terri and Dave are retired, they can finally focus their full attention on their “maple syrup farm.”
“This is what the third graders call our centennial farm when they come in the spring to see the maple syrup operation,” Sue says. “We tie the experience to the curriculum they are studying, which is the pioneers and, specifically, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little
Dave's wife Terri, is as passionate about maple syrup as her husband. Photo by John Russell.
House in the Big Woods, Sweet Success
With their new and efficient syrup-making system, they started to produce more than they could consumer, and realized they would need to find more customers! So Terri and a friend started attending the Petoskey farmers market to sell their syrup. Eventually, they expanded to other markets, too.
“There’s nothing better than being at the farmers market,” Terri says. “You hear so many stories! One couple came to our stand at the market and bought some of our maple candies. They smiled and told me, ‘We’re buying a memory!’ They were so thrilled to find the candies they loved back in their childhood days.”
Terri and Dave now produce nearly 900 gallons of syrup per year.
“Our plan wasn’t to increase production, but once we were able to do it and improve the quality of our product so much, we decided we could make some money at it, too,” says Dave.
In addition to the syrup, they also make maple sugar and maple candies, as well as maple cream, maple pecans, maple toffee, maple granola, pancake mix, and gift baskets.
They attend the Petoskey and Charlevoix farmers markets and occasionally, the Harbor Springs market. They also sell their syrup wholesale to Symons General Store, Harbor Springs IGA, Boyne Country Provisions and Wine Emporium, Harborview Café, Julienne Tomatoes, Roast and Toast, City Park Grill, and some wholesale distributors in the Detroit area. They ship their products around the country and overseas by request.
The two stay busy all year long, only taking the month of January off.
“We don’t know how we did our day jobs and this before!” says Terri. “We can make syrup and we make maple candy and pecans every week of the year, but we really enjoy what we’re doing!”
Terri’s favorite story is from a customer who regularly buys their syrup at the market and sends it to her daughter, who lives in Vermont, of all places. The customer told Terri, “My daughter’s three-year-old son gets so excited when his mom serves pancakes.
He sits up at the table and says, ‘Please pass the Michigan maple syrup!’