By SANDY CIUPAK
Special to The Gazette
2009 will be the first sugaring season at Maple Valley Farm without patriarch Gene Fulton, who passed away last March after a long illness.
With Gene in Hospice care, last yearâ€™s season was an emotional one for his wife, Grace, and the rest of the family, but they kept him involved with daily updates from the farm.
Gene had insisted that his son and grandson invest in some new sugaring machinery, Steve Fulton said. So in 2008, for the first time, the Fultons tried a new vacuum method that pulls the sap out of the trees rather than relying on gravity to do the work.
â€œWe actually milk the trees,â€ said Steve Fulton, adding that in the area where they used the new method, production increased up to 50 percent.
Gene wasnâ€™t well enough to see the new equipment in action, so the family videotaped the operation and played it back for him while he was in Hospice.
Steve Fulton remembers 2008 as a sad, but unusually productive season. The year before, the farm had produced 300 gallons, but in 2008, Geneâ€™s last year, they produced 630.
â€œLast yearâ€™s quality was extra good,â€ added Grace Fulton. â€œSap flowed every day. And after Gene passed, it just stopped. It did.â€