Discover more from Annie’s Attic
Tapping Into Success: Couple Turns a Childhood History Project Into Thriving Business
It all started with a school project, a father's guidance, and some old maple syrup tapping spouts
It’s often said that one person’s junk is another person’s treasure. Andy Humphrey would likely agree, because the old maple syrup tapping spouts he found in his family’s junk drawer in fifth grade turned into the thriving business he owns and operates today.
An ambitious set of entrepreneurs from America’s heartland, Andy and his wife, Marylin, are proof that the good old Protestant work ethic and American ingenuity aren’t as dead as we may think. Although they’re both only 26 years old, the couple already has more than a decade of business experience under their belt—experience they’re putting to good use as they rapidly expand their various enterprises.
In addition to farming several hundred acres and raising beef cattle, the couple owns and operates A&M Pure Maple Syrup in Dallas, Wisconsin.
The expansion has been rapid. Last year, they produced 5,000 gallons of syrup, bottling it under their own brand, but also selling it to a wholesaler in Ohio, who, in turn, sells it to well-known companies such as Trader Joe’s and Cracker Barrel. By building relationships and offering higher prices for the syrup of other producers in the area, the Humphreys’ operation is thriving and becoming an important part of the local community.
But the Humphreys don’t just stick to plain old maple syrup. Inspired by a bottle of cinnamon-infused syrup on a Walmart shelf, Andy and Marylin began experimenting with their own flavored syrup, three of which include wild orange, coffee, and bourbon. And because maple syrup needs a partner, the couple recently acquired Kripple Kreek Syrup Co., which boasts a pancake mix made with maple sugar, often sold at many tourist locations across the country.
Raised to Venture
The success of A&M Pure Maple Syrup would have been far less likely, however, had Andy’s parents ignored opportunities to teach their son the principles of good business at an early age. Raising five children, Andy’s father sought to find the interests of each child and taught them how to turn those interests into money-making ventures. Andy’s sisters chose sheep and horses, while his brother pursued auto mechanics, and today, three out of the five children are self-employed and running successful businesses.
Andy is one of those three. At first, he followed in his sister’s footsteps, starting a small flock of sheep and eventually expanding to beef cattle. This growth was fostered by his father, who gave each child the capital to start their endeavors, offering them three options once they gained footing in their respective business enterprises.
The first was to “keep the money and spend it on stupid stuff,” Andy explains. The second was to sell the product and invest the money in something else, while the third was to keep the product—in Andy’s case, his lambs—and expand on it.
But Andy’s interests didn’t only revolve around sheep and beef cattle. As mentioned earlier, Andy came across a couple of old sap spouts in the family junk drawer while in fifth grade. Needing a topic for his Wisconsin state history project, Andy researched the maple syrup industry in his state, tapping a few trees and collecting the sap in the process.
His interest in maple syrup grew, and in 2012, his father sectioned off a small portion of woods, helping Andy build a sugar house to boil down the sap. Although the season was a bad one and only lasted three days, it was a fun family venture, and Andy decided to try it again.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, Andy made a valuable business move in 2013 by conning one of his high school classmates, a girl named Marylin, into helping him with the syrup season. The two met in welding class and “sparks flew,” Andy said jokingly. But the time on the farm wasn’t quite the hot date that Marylin anticipated, as she soon discovered that she was “free help.”
“I stuck around longer than his family because they realized it was hard work!” Marylin says. “It was just Andy and me, hauling buckets, into the night, cooking syrup.”
Those long nights were literal for Andy, who spent the early years of maple syruping sleeping in a hammock in the woods in order to keep an eye on the collection and processing of the sap.
The couple married the following year, two weeks after high school graduation. Opting out of college, Andy started doing highway construction work, a job that not only made him more money than would have a college degree but also laid him off during the winter, enabling him to prepare for and run the syrup season each year.
Expanding and Teaching Others
By 2016, the syrup business was expanding so much that Andy and Marylin knew they had to “go big or go home.” They chose the former, learning from their mistakes along the way, including buying an old evaporator they refer to as “the locomotive” because of the black plumes of smoke it spat out while processing the sap.
“I should’ve [run] when I saw it!” Andy says, noting that they didn’t make any money off it the first year.
“We’re in too deep now!” Marylin says of their current state. “We’re addicted to it—it’s a fever!”
And that’s a fever they like to spread to others. Driven by their own desire for easily accessible parts, the Humphreys decided to become maple syrup equipment distributors a few years ago. They sell everything from little evaporators for hobbyists, to monster evaporators like the one they have in their own sugar shack. Doing so has allowed Andy and Marylin to support economic growth and industry in their community.
“I think farmers have yet to realize that you can actually make money with maple syrup,” Marylin says.
It’s a fairly good investment, offering a quick return. The Humphreys seek to smooth the way on this investment, setting up the tubing equipment for farmers and servicing it when needed, while also buying any sap and syrup the surrounding farmers make.
It’s a win-win situation for both sides, for the farmers do the job of watching all the trees and tapping on location, providing manpower that the Humphreys don’t have, while the Humphreys remove the production burden from farmers through their established operation. Farmers also get a tax write-off for their land because tapping trees turns it into agricultural usage.
The couple has big plans to continue expanding their business and are hoping to help their neighbors discover the untapped maple syrup potential in their state.
“If Wisconsin was to utilize all its [maple] trees, it would make more [syrup] than Vermont,” Marylin says.
Their plans also include passing along the business principles Andy’s dad instilled in him.
“If we ever have kids someday, I would do the same thing my folks did,” Andy says. “It really teaches you values, how to handle money.”
If you would like to read more uplifting articles about fellow Americans working hard in the trenches of life, please consider subscribing!
This article is republished with permission from The Epoch Times.
Image Credits: Annie Holmquist