The Mapletree Farm in Concord is up for sale, but only to the right buyer

  • Dean Wilber has operated Mapletree Farm in East Concord for the past 47 years and has seen the pencil-thick trees grow into mature maples in that time. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Dean Wilber checks his lines at Mapletree Farm in East Concord. He says the red squirrels clue him in on when the sap is running and the frogs let him know when the season has ended.

  • Dean Wilber has operated Mapletree Farm in East Concord for the past 47 years and has seen the pencil-thick trees grow into mature maples in that time. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dean Wilber has operated Mapletree Farm in East Concord for the past 47 years and has seen the pencil-thick trees grow into mature maples in that time. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dean Wilber has operated Mapletree Farm in East Concord for the past 47 years and has seen the pencil-thick trees grow into mature maples in that time. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 9/23/2022 5:07:15 PM
Modified: 9/23/2022 5:06:38 PM

Dean Wilber ignored the writing on the wall that he was too old to continue owning and operating Mapletree Farm in Concord.

He did, however, notice the writing on a piece of paper, handed to him by his youngest son last December, and admits he wasn’t thrilled to read his own retirement letter, a collaboration of his three children.

It began, “It’s time for The Old Man of Mapletree Farm to relax, to focus on my health and to find new adventures. With this in mind, I have made the difficult decision to close the doors of Mapletree Farm as of December 31, 2021.”

But this Old Man, now 82, wasn’t ready, for either retirement or his children’s nudge toward the TV remote. He’s extended his sweet career until the end of this year, ending his 47-year run as someone who prided himself on knowing the subtleties and nuances needed to make great syrup.

Meanwhile, he’s trying to sell his farm, which opened in 1975. Developers need not apply.

He said city officials tried and failed to convince him to donate the land to the city. He’s asking for $750,000 and says he’s turned down $1 million because the buyer planned to develop the land.

“(A developer) wants to build a road through here and put five exclusive house lots,” said Wilber, sitting in the room attached to the sugar shack at his farm. “I want someone operating the sugar house and to see someone operating for five years. I want to see my 50th anniversary.”

As for the surprise letter, his daughter, Deb Power of Candia, mentioned that her father was angry upon receiving it. She hoped this information would be excluded from the story.

And that was fine, until her father chose to comment on what was an awkward scenario.

“This has been a bone of contention,” Wilber said. “They wanted me to close the door. They wrote my retirement letter for me. I read it and handed it back to my youngest son. There were things I wanted to accomplish before I closed the door.”

Added Power, “It’s been a while since he has not been able to do this on his own. Very few people understand that this is a year-round operation.”

Wilber still rides his 50-horsepower Kubota tractor and his 57 HP excavator. He calls those functions his seat time.

There’s also inventory, orders to fill, equipment repair, carrying heavy machinery, processing the sap into syrup, supervising the flow of the waffle-topping Nektar through an elaborate network of tubes, leading to a giant stainless steel container.

Liz Remsen, 26, of Concord volunteers there, payback because Wilber opened his dock for her three children to swim after Covid had closed the city’s public pools.

She marvels at his passion and determination. Still, she believes it’s time for her boss to step down.

“I help with orders, help with keeping the place running,” said Remsen, who was working on this particular day. “He’s 82, and I don’t know how he has as much energy as he does. He still goes out and taps the trees in the middle of winter. That takes a lot.”

Wilber didn’t care that he had slowed down. The farm created a vast stable of customers who methodically flowed into the parking area like maple syrup remained loyal, and his three children worked on the farm as little kids, decades ago.

They later received help from Wilber’s wife of 37 years, Meg Fricke, who died suddenly five years ago at the age of 71.

The children played on the farm, but did their fair share of work as well, hauling buckets of sap with a wooden bar, called a yoke, that was fitted onto their necks and supported by their shoulders, the two buckets hanging from each end.

“I remember we used to gather buckets and hung them on a tree by spickets,” Power said. “We’d carry two pails. I recall spilling half the sap into my boot.”

When Wilber leaves, he’ll take his wisdom with him. He says he keeps his equipment cleaner than most farmers, and that helps his syrup taste better than the competition.

He said red squirrels bite the immature buds on branches and suck out the sap. Gray squirrels are heavier, the branches unable to support their weight.

“The red squirrel bites it and sits there and drinks the sap,” Wilber said. “When I see a red squirrel sitting there and drinking, I know the sap is ready to flow, and that typically happens in late February.”

He has other tricks. He calls frogs ‘peepers’ and says they signal information to him, just like the red squirrels do.

“When those peepers start peeping, the season is over,” Wilber said. “The frogs tell you the season is over. I watch the squirrels and I listen to the frogs.”

Now, he’s listening to his kids. It began with that letter, which blindsided him.

“This draft letter made him very upset,” Power wrote in an email. “I think now he understands it’s time to retire. We all wanted my father to relax and have fun.”

He’s got about three months before he retires. He says that if hasn’t sold the farm to the right buyer by then, he’ll sell off his equipment. Liquidate was the word he used.

Either way, there’s no turning back.

“I’m glad they brought it up,” said Wilber, referring to the letter his children delivered. “It was hard all these years. I cannot continue, and I was not surprised by what they wrote.

“It showed me that they were concerned and they loved me, but they did not understand how deep my commitment was.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.



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