Female Scarlet Tanager. Photo: Travis Bonovsky/Audubon Photography Awards
Female Scarlet Tanager. Photo: Travis Bonovsky/Audubon Photography Awards

Healthy Forests

Women Making Maple: Voices From The Sugarbush

New York's maple producers range from hobbyists to full-time, year-round businesses. While one person may take the lead in general operations, sugaring is not typically a one-man show. Entire families tap trees together, and neighbors and schoolchildren often visit local sugarhouses to experience the process of boiling sap down to syrup.

The beauty of this industry is in its communal nature. To that end, we asked three women about their experiences co-owning, supporting, and partnering with others to make the best possible syrup New York has to offer. 

Tilly Strauss was recovering from a broken leg this winter, but it didn’t stop her from supporting her family’s Home Farm Maple sugaring business.

“I do social media, help with sales, packaging, getting bottles off to delivery…” she explains, reminding me that tapping and boiling sap – the more idyllic aspects of the work – are just one small part of a much greater effort.

Preparing to tap maple trees! Photo: Tilly Strauss

Even more impressive when you take into account that most sugaring operations are small family businesses. 

“I don’t know where my dad is, he doesn’t have a cell phone, so he’s probably wandering around the woods” she muses, laughing about how she can never find him on their 300-acre farm: but during sugaring season, they are guaranteed to spend quality time together at the sugaring shack.

Tilly is also an artist and the town clerk and takes on the role of educator for the school groups that come by in winter. “I talk about the birds that depend on our forest, we have the kids practice tapping with a drill and hammer, do taste tests of sap and syrup – that blows their minds of course – and we hold an art contest for the kids to win a couple bottles of syrup.”

Now, as a Bird-Friendly Maple program participant, Tilly is excited to increase the farm’s conservation efforts. “We are dedicated to keeping this land diverse,” she says. “At first I thought the woods had to be cleaned up, now I have a new appreciation for leaving dead stuff on the ground!”


“Both Jeffrey and I have full-time jobs on top of the maple sugaring, which is also turning into a full-time job,” laughs Ashley Ruprecht, co-owner of Laurel & Ash Farm along with her husband.

Ashley Ruprecht works to install sap lines in the sugarbush.

It’s wonderful to hear Ruprecht speak about their work with such joy, given she works for a hospitality group from 9-5 and then continues on to tasks as varied as answering emails to preparing shipments for delivery.

“I’m trying to focus more time on our business because we’re expanding our product line this year. We started producing vinegar in collaboration with another orchard that makes apple cider: we blend the cider with the syrup and age it for six months in New York State White Oak barrels. It’s great for shrubs and making drinks,” says Ashley.

With a background in fine arts and marketing, Ashley saw the importance of creating a unique and memorable brand, and her efforts have paid off: Oprah named Laurel & Ash’s Maple Syrup Gift Box one of her Favorite Things in 2022. Laurel & Ash treats every bottle like a work of art, hand punching bottle numbers and stamping barrel numbers, waxing every top, tying string around the neck to keep syrup from dripping down. 

For as much as their business grows, it has not escaped Ashley’s notice that “sugaring is a male-dominated industry, and you don’t often see women as the face of maple companies. I try to put myself in front of the camera on social media a bit more, knowing that it’s unique to see a woman doing the physical labor of tapping, feeding the fire, even bottling.”

Now, she adds bird conservation to her list of reasons why her product is so special. “People are so interested in the Bird-Friendly Maple program. At Farmers Markets especially, we get a lot of questions and are happy to teach folks about how we have amended our forest management plan to benefit birds and other wildlife.”


“I grew up In New Hampshire, where maple syrup is a household staple. After college I moved to Alaska (no maples there!) and was grateful to learn how Alaska Natives tap birch trees and host boils with friends and family, passing on the knowledge to the younger generations. It’s not seen as an individual business so much as a way of life. We try to honor that here as well,” Christina of Rock Forest Farm explains.

Close up of tap dripping sap out, woman with dark hair and red winter hat stands behind out of focus
Christina behind tap. Photo: Basil Tsimoyianis

Christina and her partner came back east to start a land project rooted in their background of climate justice work, and specifically looked for land that would be resilient to change—ideally with running water and an overall diversity of habitats. They were open to regenerating parts of the forest as-needed. 

But first, they started small. “We live in a cabin and started with an open cylinder block fire pit and turkey pans. Each year, we added a bit more, purchasing an evaporator and building a small sugar shack,” says Christina.

“It’s the same with stewarding the land. We have been doing invasive species mitigation here and there, taking out Barberry and Japanese stiltgrass. Five years later, we did an extensive forest management plan to see what’s on the land and what we can do to benefit birds and other wildlife.”

Christina self-identifies as both a bird nerd and the “sugar mama” of Rock Forest. The two identities are a natural overlap, when so many forest-dependent species call the sugarbush home.

“I am on point for sugaring every year. My partner and I do equal work, but I figure out our operations, what supplies we need…he’s the ‘mushroom man’ and his focus is on growing shiitake mushrooms, a natural companion of maple logs.”

The forest is lucky to have a steward like Christina. “I know real maple syrup can be expensive compared to the alternatives at the grocery store, but it really does taste different and represents a beautiful reciprocal relationship to the land. The Lenape have been sugaring in this area since before colonization, and the traditions continue today. With the challenges of climate change, we are learning to adapt and are grateful for each year the sap runs," reflects Christina.

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