Living in the OC: How sweet it is!

March 18, 2016
The Merten Family, left to right, Tom, Jill, Lindsey, Ethan, Whitney and Zack Hintz. Family pet Miles, a Bernese Mountain dog, center.

The Merten Family, left to right, Tom, Jill, Lindsey, Ethan, Whitney and Zack Hintz. Family pet Miles, a Bernese Mountain dog, center.

‘Living in the OC’ is sponsored by Springstead Law Offices, with locations in Hart and Fremont, 231-873-4022 (Hart),

SpringsteadVertical_091015By Allison Scarbrough. OCP Editor.

ELBRIDGE TOWNSHIP — What started out as a hobby for Tom Merten when he was a 10-year-old boy has flourished into a family business.

Located on Polk Road just east of Hart, a visit to Merten Farms, where maple syrup is produced, is like a trip back in time. The smokestack on the old-fashioned-style sap house puffs out steam, indicative of the action inside. But what goes on inside the sap house and out in the woods where the sap is drawn is nothing old-fashioned.

The Merten family has made some serious upgrades to its business, increasing the number of trees tapped from 800 to 2,500. By using a new high-vacuum line system, buckets are no longer used to collect the tree sap. There is a network of plastic tubes on the trees that run the sap to a 2,000-gallon tank.

The Mertens also increased syrup production with a new 4-by-12-foot evaporator that processes 400 gallons of sap mertens - 8per hour by boiling it at 217 degrees. Its 2-by-8-foot predecessor processed 75 gallons per hour, said Tom’s son Ethan.

With the modern equipment, syrup production has increased from 150 gallons per season to 800, Lindsey said.

It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, Tom said.

The main challenge with the new line system is damage caused by squirrels chewing on the tubes. But the lines can be replaced and put back into service in little time, Tom said.

A filter press removes any impurities from the syrup, which are called “sugar sands.”

mertens - 11Although most syrup producers these days use gas heat, the Mertens have stuck with the traditional wood-fired method. When you taste their delicious maple syrup, maple cream and maple sugar, it offers a sweet, yet slightly smoky flavor.

The Merten clan is all about working hard and spending time together as a family. Their business motto, “It’s not work. It’s family time,” sums it all up.

“It really brings the family close together,” said Tom. “We all have a part in it.” Along with Tom and Ethan, Tom’s wife Jill, and their daughter Lindsey work tirelessly to keep the farm running.

Tom and Jill’s youngest child, daughter Whitney, and their son-in-law and Zack Hintz also help out when needed.

Lindsey also raises registered Boer goats and currently has 50 goats on the farm. Her family eagerly chips in to helpmertens - 10 her with the animals.

They all have full-time jobs in addition to working on the farm, so their “workdays” often last well into the evening. Tom is a timber buyer; Ethan, a nuclear welder; and Jill and Lindsey work at Gale’s IGA in Hart. Ethan is able to work in the sap house on a full-time basis during sap season. “I learned how to do this and passed it on to him,” Tom said.

“This time of the year, we are out here all the time,” said Lindsey. This year’s sap season began March 1, said Tom, and he is expecting it to end next week. This year’s warmer spring shortened the season, he said.

The sap house is a popular place for neighbors to stop in, and the friendly Mertens enjoy the camaraderie.

mertens - 2Sap runs best when it is below freezing at night but sunny during the day, Lindsey said.

The farm is having an open house this weekend from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. Take a tour of the farm and watch demonstrations. Check out Merten Farms Facebook page for more information.

In addition to buying their products at the farm, you can purchase them at local stores such as Gale’s IGA and Hansen Foods in Hart. Lindsey also sells them at the Ludington Farmers’ Market during the summer.

The Mertens have tapped into not only a growing business but a family passion. “This is what it’s all about – family,” said Tom.

Editor’s Note: Watch for an upcoming video segment about Merten Farms on OCP.