Farmer Feature is back & this week we are featuring Dave (Beaner) Lemke! Dave’s farm, Running Tree Sugarhouse, is located in Medford, WI where he also owns a Ford dealership. We got a peek into his early aspirations of business ownership and his take on maple syrup production; a family tradition he has been practicing for 51 years! Read on for all of the details and check back for more features about Maple Valley’s farmers and customers!
How much Maple Syrup do you produce annually?
We produce between 5,000 to 11,000 gallons of syrup per year. Last year, 2016, my dad, mom & myself built a new sugarhouse, purchased a new RO and acquired more acreage for tapping. This has enabled our business, called Running Tree Sugarhouse, to expand production of organic maple syrup. In 2017 additional acreage, in close proximity to our sugarhouse, was purchased giving Running Tree the opportunity to continue to grow.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to own my own business. My brother and I started saving our allowance and bought taps and pans to collect and cook syrup starting in the early 1970’s. We started when we were 7 & 9 years old respectively, growing our production every year. The business was used to produce a little extra cash since it wasn’t sustainable income on its own.
Also, I harvested wild ginseng and spent much time on my grandma’s small farm helping with cows, steers, chickens, ducks, geese, hogs and of course, a very large garden. Later, I worked as a service technician repairing cars, trucks and tractors at my dad’s Ford garage, Medford Motors, dreaming of someday owning it. During this time I also raised ginseng and sold shade cloth, cable, & hardware. Leaving ginseng production led to strawberry production in the Medford area. Today, I cultivate 5 acres of strawberries for our local market. I also own Medford Motors, Inc., a Ford dealership, with my son as a partner. Dad has retired from owning & operating our Ford dealership. My dad & I (along with friends & family) harvest sap from 500+ acres of sugar bush.
How did you first get started in Maple Syrup production? How long have you been making Maple Syrup?
My Grandma Hessefort helped me tap trees when I was 4 years old and I’ve been producing maple syrup for the last 51 years.
What is your favorite part of the process?
That’s tough, because I love it all, but my least favorite is marketing it.
Does anyone help out?
Mom & Dad, my children, retired friends, high school & college students, and we contract help as needed.
What inspires you?
I wish to have a positive impact on tomorrow by guiding, teaching, and building opportunities within my abilities and life.
What does Organic mean to you? Why do you choose to farm organically?
Organic, to me, is a pure, clean product produced naturally. Farming organically is good for everyone and everything. Also, organic production of maple syrup represents sustainable production. It just makes good sense to farm organically!
What has been your greatest challenge as a Maple Farmer?
It has been hard to find maple land with elevation in larger acreages. Most of the prime land in our area is national forest.
How do you view your role in your local community and on a grander scale?
My purpose in life is to help make lives better. Our Ford dealership sells & services vehicles with a different mindset. Our goal is genuine. Six months or years later we want our customers to be happy because we treated them as we expect to be treated ourselves. They are our future and are our best advertising. We spend a lot of would-be advertising money on customer accommodations such as providing a vehicle to use when theirs is being repaired.
If a potential customer is unsure as to what vehicle will satisfy their needs, Medford Motors provides a variety of vehicles for them to drive before a purchase agreement is made. We try to walk that fine red line of being fair while making money at the end of the day. I have an obligation to leave this world better than I found it using my abilities to have the biggest positive impact. I believe that in business there still is something good in being honest and fair.
What is your favorite way to eat Maple Syrup? Do you have a favorite recipe?
I like it “straight up right out of the evaporator”.
Favorite recipe: Strawberry Smoothie
2 1/2 cups of fresh strawberries
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 cups of ice
Blend all together & enjoy
Which do you prefer? Dark or Amber?
Generally, the dark syrup is great for cooking and marinating to get the most flavor. The amber is really good for pancakes, ice cream, & strawberry smoothies.
What do you hope to see for yourself and your farm in the future?
I hope to grow the maple farm, Running Tree Sugarhouse, in our community and work it with my family and friends. In the future, when I retire, it will become my new job.