Portrait photo of Jen Freeman (photo courtesy of Jen Freeman)
Ohio Life

Jen Freeman Sticks to Her Family's Maple Syrup Legacy

The president of Richards Maple Products and the Ohio Maple Producers Association, discusses the family business and our state’s maple-sugaring tradition.

The arrival of lake-effect snow might cause a collective groan from most people living in northeast Ohio, but for the region’s maple syrup producers, it’s a sweet situation.

“We need a hard winter,” says Jen Freeman, president of Richards Maple Products in Chardon. “We need the trees to go dormant, and all the snowpack and the moisture helps provide us with good syrups.”

Freeman, who is also president of the Ohio Maple Producers Association, has syrup in her veins. Her great-grandparents Will and Rena Richards started the company in 1910. Today, it sells syrup, as well as hot sauce, candy and more, all made using the maple sap harvested each spring. Ahead of the Geauga County Maple Festival (running in 2024 April 25 through 28), we talked with Freeman about the family legacy and northeast Ohio’s maple-sugaring heritage. 

How does it feel to carry on the legacy of a company your great-grandparents started more than a century ago?
I knew from an extremely young age that this is what I want to do. When I was very young, I worked here part time. I went to college for this. I’ve always had my focus on this. … During Christmas, I work in the store a lot, seeing people and interacting with them and seeing the fruits of our labor go out the door. Then it’s syrup-making season, and I get to see all those people. That’s the common theme through all of this. 

Why do you think the Geauga County Maple Festival has remained such a strong tradition over the years? 
It’s been going ever since 1926. They started it so producers could come together on the square, have a social event and sell their syrup for more money. … They’ve had stir booths since the very early festivals, giving out bowls of syrup to everybody. They’ve had the Maple Queen’s contest ever since the very beginning. They’ve had the lumberjack contest since the very beginning. … It’s the traditions that continue that make it important. 

Does weather or the time of harvest affect the flavor of the syrup?
There are all kinds of variables. We need a lot of snow cover, but if it’s too wet, there will be a low sugar content. Some years, we are not exactly sure why, but the trees produce a spicier, cinnamon-like flavor. For timing, the first part of the season makes a very mild-flavored syrup — it’s sweet, but there’s not much flavor to it. As the season progresses it makes for darker, stronger-flavored syrup, which is the trend right now.

For more information, visit richardsmapleproducts.com or maplefestival.com.