The Land: Maple Grove Farms, making syrup for 7 decades.

March 28, 2018

Bernice and Jerry Shafer

The Land: Maple Grove Farms, making syrup for 7 decades.


By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

CRYSTAL TOWNSHIP (Oceana County) — Just south of the Mason-Oceana line, on 120th Avenue, sits Maple Grove Farms, owned by Jerry and Bernice Shafer. Jerry’s parents, Herb and Betty Shafer, moved to the farm when Jerry was 1-year-old, almost 79 years ago, from Indiana where Herb had worked for Allis-Chalmers in LaPorte, Ind.

Jerry’s parents raised dairy cattle on their original 80 acres. When Jerry took it over in 1962, he transitioned to beef cattle, along with numerous cash crops and vegetables, including asparagus. Today, the 1,700 acre farm grows mostly cash crops, they got rid of the cattle about 25 years ago. But one constant on the farm for over seven decades has been maple syrup.

“The original farm was mostly maple trees before Jerry’s parents bought it,” Bernice explains. “The little schoolhouse just down the road was called the Maple Grove School. So, it was appropriate to call the farm Maple Grove Farms.”

Bernice and Jerry will celebrate 53 years of marriage this fall. Bernice grew up just six miles away, “halfway between here and Walkerville,” she says.

“In all the time we’ve been married, we’ve only missed four seasons of maple syrup,” Bernice says. “Once, Jerry had been sick, and the other times it was just too warm. This has been an interesting season because it’s the first time we haven’t had any snow on the ground. There have been times when we’ve had only an inch or two, but not any snow at all.”

Jerry recalls the mid-60s when there were times when the ground was covered in 3 to 4 feet of snow. “There was one year, when we first got married, that we had to rent a bulldozer to move the snow so we could get to the trees.”

The Shafers still operate much of their maple syrup operation the same as those early days.

“We’ve made some upgrades this year in anticipation of our grandsons taking over the operation,” Bernice says. “But, we still collect with buckets and use the traditional boiling system. A lot of operations have switched to reverse osmosis.”

Jerry adds that they switched from burning wood to fuel oil several years ago. “Fuel oil got really cheap for awhile. Sometimes I think we should switch back to burning wood, though.”

Though there hasn’t been any snow on the ground, this season, which began in early March, has been a good season, Jerry and Bernice say.

“It’s been an excellent season,” Bernice says. “Years ago we would rent our neighbors woods and ended up with 700 to 800 gallons. Now, we just tap trees from about 25 acres on our own land. Our goal this year was to make 150 gallons. Then, we increased that to 200. We have ended the season with 360 gallons.”

Their maple syrup is for sale at some local stores and can also be purchased right at the farm, 8560 N. 120th Ave., about a mile south of Washington Road on the county line.

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