Sweet things are in the making at Kettle Ridge Farm


From a weekly egg delivery service within its neighborhood to a soon-to-be-launched pancake food truck, Kettle Ridge Farm exemplifies the enterprise and creativity today’s small farmers must bring to their job.

Kettle Ridge encompasses 70 acres spread out across areas around Rochester, N.Y. Owners Joe Hurley and his son, Chris, produce maple syrup, honey and shiitake mushrooms grown on oak logs.

Most visitors come to Kettle Ridge’s central location, an 11-acre farm located in a residential area not far from busy regional retail hubs.

That puts Kettle Ridge’s agritourism experience within easy reach of the population of one of the fastest-growing regions in New York state.

Events that educate

One way Kettle Ridge brings in visitors is through its Adopt-a-Maple program.

Participants can sign up to adopt a maple tree on the farm for a year at a time. They get their name on the adopted tree, and can come out to tap the tree and get a tour and tasting.

Hurley said adopted trees have been given as Christmas and Valentine’s Day gifts. Some families have adopted a tree as a memorial to a loved one who has passed away.

One enterprising groom surprised his bride-to-be with an adopted tree during a wedding proposal this year. School classes, chef’s groups and garden clubs have also adopted trees.

Participants in the adopt-a-tree program get tickets to another important event on the Kettle Ridge calendar. KettleFest is a one-day festival in September that celebrates local food and artisans.

The 2016 event drew 1,500 people, Hurley said, and featured live music, craft beer, chicken races and other children’s activities and educational workshops.

Hurley is planning to repeat that success by introducing a new festival in June to coincide with an active period for his honeybees. The Honey Dipper Festival will also feature local food and music, with tastings and other activities for families.

March Maple Weekends

Right now, Kettle Ridge is preparing to participate in two New York State Maple Weekends March 18-19 and 25-26.

Maple Weekends are a program of the New York State Maple Producers Association. Kettle Ridge is one of more than 160 farms and museums across the state participating in the maple weekends.

Visitors who come between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. during either weekend can taste fresh maple syrup and pancake samples and take tours of the sugar house and farm. Hourly guided farm hikes will include stops at the shiitake mushroom log yard, honeybee apiary and chicken coop.

These kinds of family-friendly, hands-on farm experiences are a big part of how modern small farms create sustainable business models. They also feed demand from families who are looking for ways to limit screen time and reconnect with where food comes from.

“I think there’s a huge appetite for that,” Hurley said. “I think a lot of parents want to get their kids outside and experience the outdoors a little more than what they’re used to now.”

To take the experience a little farther afield, Hurley is working to launch a new channel for the farm’s products.

Kettle Ridge is building a food truck that will make the experience of enjoying hot pancakes with farm-fresh maple syrup a portable enterprise that can be taken to events and other locations around the region.

The farm also offers weekly deliveries of the eggs its chickens lay to neighbors within a 3-mile radius.

Building interest in plants

Hurley started learning about horticulture, maple syrup and honey 10 years ago. He and his wife had just moved to a 50-acre property shortly after he sold his previous business, the college savings website savingforcollege.com.

Before that, he said, “I was your typical suburban homeowner, very interested in keeping the weeds out of my grass. Now I encourage weeds in my grass.”

He’s taken classes on horticulture, conservation and related topics, and enjoys discovering new plants on the family’s properties.

“I’ve created a very long list of plants that I’ve found growing wild on our properties,” he said.

Some of those plants can be found on Kettle Ridge Farm’s Plants Map profile. Many of the plants on the profile are native species Hurley has found growing in the wild as he has explored the property.

White snakeroot grows in abundance in the shadier areas of the forest. Hurley found virgin’s bower growing along a road on the property, and at first confused it with poison ivy because of its three-leaf configuration.

He keeps a collection called “Mystery Plants” open for plants he can’t identify, in the hopes that the community of Plants Map users might be able to help him.

Hurley hopes to have more time to fill out the farm’s Plants Map profile, as his work running the business allows.

Attention to the land’s natural heritage is central to what Kettle Ridge does. In fact, the farm’s name is tied to the geological history of the area.

“The area was created by glacial activities, so the name Kettle Ridge reflects the kettle hole ponds all around us, along with the fairly high ridges,” Hurley said. “It’s interesting topography.

The 11-acre farm headquarters includes a kettle-hole swamp that is home to an interesting variety of wildlife, as well as a plant called swamp loosestrife, which has proven popular among the farm’s honeybees.

This year’s colony of bees is expected on the farm in April. With their arrival, another season of honey-making will begin on this family farm, which aims to add a little extra sweetness to life with the products it makes and the events it hosts.

To learn more, follow Kettle Ridge Farm on Plants Map.