It took a farmers work ethic, some good, old-fashion elbow grease and lots of family support for the Alexandria-St. Albans Township Fire Department chief to achieve what is truly a sweet dream.
"Once you get hooked on it, you can't live without it," said Ron Butcher, a retired Columbus firefighter who, in addition to his current part-time duties as St. Albans fire chief, is owner of the new and successful Butcher Family Maple Products company on Butcher Road, just off state Route 661, between Granville and Mount Vernon. "It's still amazing," the number of people who have never tried real maple products.
Pancake syrup, like Log Cabin and other similar products, are made from corn syrup, not maple, and they don't count, he said.
Butcher, a Newark resident, said Ohio is the sixth-most prolific state in maple syrup production. He, along with his son, Justin of Johnstown, and brother, Roger of Centerburg, are making sure their company does its part to add to that statistic by producing various maple products, from syrup to maple confections and even maple cotton candy.
"We use it for everything," he said, adding that pouring maple syrup over vanilla ice cream is his favorite.
Butcher credits his father, who made syrup from a small camp, for igniting his passion. Butcher, who made syrup even when he was in high school, said his son, Justin, has a great love for the outdoors, and it wasn't difficult to convince Justin to create syrup on a small scale with him as his son grew.
Butcher recalls a time when his wife had gone out of town, only to return to find Ron and Justin making maple syrup in the house.
"It ruined the cabinet over the range, but we made four gallons of syrup," Ron Butcher said.
All was forgiven, however, as his wife and daughter actively participate in the business.
Justin has followed in his father's footsteps as a Columbus firefighter but is still an entrepreneurial partner.
Butcher said Roger, also a Columbus firefighter, is a "talented fabricator" and lends his construction skills.
Butcher said he really dove into the business in August of last year, which was a very strong year for maple production. He said he and his family tapped 500 trees and produced 100 gallons of syrup.
"It was grueling," he said.
Today, the business is housed in a new Vermont-style 54-by-84-foot cabin complete with a traditional cupola.
"It's state of the art," he said.
He has leased more acreage and added an ultra-modern automated tapping system that not only collects maple sap more efficiently but also ensures the trees remain healthy through the process.
"We're really busy," said Butcher as he continues to run more tubing between the trees.
Justin is working on a website and creating unusual holiday gift packages for those with a sweet tooth.
"Do they really need another gift certificate to Red Lobster?" Butcher joked.
The business remains and will likely always be a work in progress, he said.
"You want to keep adding more and more," he said.
Butcher said the intensity of the effort it takes to build the business is a definite challenge, and the weather is a huge factor in success, but he gets to enjoy the outdoors on the farm where he grew up and learned the value of hard work, and it pulls his family together in a unique way.
"It's so expensive to do," Butcher said, "but the best part is the family involvement."
Butcher said he is looking forward to springtime, when the sap is flowing at its peak and Butcher Family Maple Products offers tours of the facility.
"It's a great destination to bring the family and kids," he said, adding that his products are sold locally at Shulls Hardware in Johnstown. "We love trees and showing people around. People can't believe what we've created."