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Friday, March 21, 2014

The Maple Story: Patterson Maple Farms, Sabinsville, Tioga County

Patterson Maple Farms, Sabinsville, Tioga County
Owned by: Richard Patterson

Patterson Maple Farm, nestled in the hills near the town of Sabinsville in western Tioga County, is the largest Maple Producer in the state, with 83,000 taps.

Owner Richard Patterson got his love of sugaring from his grandfather, who began tapping trees on the property during the 1920’s.

Grandpa Patterson, as Richard calls him, began making maple products in the same traditional manner as the first maple producers, the Native Americans. He employed wooden whittled spiles carved from pithy trees like sumac, wooden buckets to collect the sap, and a horse named Dobbin who pulled a cart through the sugarbush while the Patterson family collected the sap.                 
While Grandpa Patterson made only enough syrup and sugar for use on the farm, Richard’s parents added 2500. Eventually, they were able to use it for trade at the General Store, where they received seeds for the coming year’s farm crops and shoes for the children in exchange for their excess product. What could not be sold locally was packaged into plain metal tins that bore a Patterson tag, taken to the Sabinsville Train Depot and shipped to New York City.

When Richard took over the farm, demand was increasing for pure maple syrup, and Richard expanded the business.

Richard’s sister, Mary Lee Patterson-Zechman, a retired school teacher who lives in Lancaster County, took over the job of sales, and the farm received a USDA contract to sell their wares at farmers markets in Washington, DC.

Local and state politicians who used Patterson syrup at home wrote letters of recommendation to the USDA to help the Patterson’s secure the contract. “The USDA said they’d never seen that before,” Richard said. “We got the contract right away.”

The business took off from there. “Mary Lee should’ve been a salesman,” Richard stated. He said she sells their syrup wherever she goes; out of the trunk of her car at gas stations, at farmers markets and by phone. She even sold to the White House Chef one time, waiting as his bodyguards escorted him from a long, black limousine.

Much of Patterson’s Maple Products are sold in the major cities on the east coast—Washington, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. Richard stated that in Philadelphia alone, the farm sells about 400 gallons of pure Pennsylvania Maple Syrup each month. As with most other modern businesses, Patterson Farm’s website claims an increasing share of the orders.

Linda Neal, who has worked at the farm for 22 years and handles tours along with her other duties, stated that the farm has sent syrup to 35 different countries, and has given tours to people from across the world. In the back of the sugar house, Linda keeps a map with pins placed to mark all the places their syrup has gone.

Though Linda gives tours to school groups, private individuals, tourists both foreign and domestic, and anyone else who wants to learn about the history of maple, she said her favorite groups are made up of third graders.

“They come ready to learn, and they’re so excited!” Linda said. “Third graders ask the best questions, and you can tell they really enjoy learning.”

Linda’s a big part of Patterson Farm’s success. She’s kind and patient, and very knowledgeable about the history of the farm, and both traditional and modern sugaring. Part of her tour explains how the Native Americans began tapping Maple Trees for sap, the calendar they developed and how it was used to mark the year.

“We still use the calendar. The third full moon of the year is the Indian’s ‘Sugar Moon,’ and that’s when it’s sugaring time,” Linda explained.

Linda is known for her bears as much as her maple. Living in the forest near Little Marsh, her property is frequented by wildlife, and she had had a number of cubs winter over on the property, some even sleeping on her porch. The photos she takes are a popular attraction at the year-round Maple Store operated just off Patterson Farm’s sugar house.

Every day, Richard, or occasionally a crew member, makes a long, slow four-hour round trip to check all the tubes in all the sugar bushes leased or owned by Patterson Farms. Linda says that, although the farm has all the modern equipment for high-tech sugaring, Richard still prefers to check each batch himself in the traditional way just to be sure.

Patterson Farms is open year-round, selling a wide variety of Maple Products at their store. Tours are available by appointment. The farm can be reached by calling 814-628-3751, or call 717-872-8233 for sales. Orders can also be taken via

To reach the farm from US Route 6, take PA-349 North in Gaines. Drive approximately 10 miles, and then take a right onto Beechwood Lake Road. Stay on the paved portion of the road until taking the first dirt road on the right, Gurnee Road. Continue for approximately 1 mile, and then take a right onto Patterson Road.

The Stories were written by Amanda Jones for the Potter/Tioga Maple Producers and PA Route 6 Alliance
Photos are by Curt Weinhold

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