Monadnock Profiles: Ben Fisk of Temple has a sweet gig

  • Ben Fisk of Temple knew what he wanted to do at the age of 5 after a school field trip to a maple syrup operation. Now at 31, he's the owner of Ben's Sugar Shack and his syrup can be found in a variety of locations around the country. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Ben Fisk of Temple knew what he wanted to do at the age of 5 after a school field trip to a maple syrup operation. Now at 31, he's the owner of Ben's Sugar Shack and his syrup can be found in a variety of locations around the country. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Ben Fisk of Temple knew what he wanted to do at the age of 5 after a school field trip to a maple syrup operation. Now at 31, he's the owner of Ben's Sugar Shack and his syrup can be found in a variety of locations around the country. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Ben Fisk of Temple knew what he wanted to do at the age of 5 after a school field trip to a maple syrup operation. Now at 31, he's the owner of Ben's Sugar Shack and his syrup can be found in a variety of locations around the country. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Ben Fisk of Temple knew what he wanted to do at the age of 5 after a school field trip to a maple syrup operation. Now at 31, he's the owner of Ben's Sugar Shack and his syrup can be found in a variety of locations around the country. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Ben Fisk of Temple knew what he wanted to do at the age of 5 after a school field trip to a maple syrup operation. Now at 31, he's the owner of Ben's Sugar Shack and his syrup can be found in a variety of locations around the country. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Ben Fisk of Temple. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/11/2020 2:58:18 PM
Modified: 3/11/2020 2:58:07 PM

All it took was one field trip when Ben Fisk was five to know what he wanted to do with his life.

Most boys at that age dream of being a police officer or professional athlete – maybe even a superhero – but not Fisk. When his preschool class visited a local maple syrup operation, Fisk had his mind set on creating the best maple syrup in New Hampshire.

He talked about it so much when he got home that day, his dad got to work on building his youngest son an evaporator. That first year, Fisk tapped 13 trees and only got enough sap to make a couple quarts of syrup. But Fisk was hooked and each year the operation grew.

For Christmas the next year, Fisk’s parents built him a 12 foot by 16-foot sugar shack for his 2 by 6 wood-fired evaporator. He added more trees and by the age of seven his syrup was being sold in the Temple Store. The following year, he had 500 taps using trees around his parent's property and those of neighbors.

“It used to be called Ben’s Little Sugar Shack,” Fisk said.

He had a passion for being in the woods, tapping trees and collecting sap. He was interested by the science behind the boiling process, with the sap needing to reach 218.4 degrees to turn into syrup.

“I still do find it fascinating,” he said.

As Fisk grew older, the passion continued to bubble up inside him, much like the sap from trees around his family’s Temple property did in the evaporator.

“We went from selling 150 gallons to 1,000 gallons when I was 15,” he said. “As a teenager, I used to hire people to drive me around to collect sap.”

By the age of 16, Fisk won the coveted NH Maple Producers Carlisle Trophy for the best syrup in the state. He may not have been able to vote, but Fisk had put himself on the map as a serious syrup maker with unlimited possibilities ahead.

“I was fortunate. I had a goal for what I wanted to do. My life plan was right in front of me,” Fisk said.

He never went to college, instead opting to get his GED. There was no reason for extra schooling because Fisk already knew what his future held.

“All through school, I told my teachers I was going to sell maple syrup for a living,” Fisk said.

Now at 31 years old, Fisk is still tapping the same 13 trees he did that first year as an enthusiastic youngster who found a passion that turned into a career and still makes him feel like a kid in the woods. Those trees now just happened to be on the property he purchased to set down his roots just a stone’s throw away from his childhood home and the main site for Ben’s Sugar Shack.

“I always knew I wanted to live in Temple. I was never leaving here,” Fisk said.

This year, Fisk placed 28,000 taps in maple trees from Temple to his second location in Newbury with 11 total locations for gathering sap to produce his syrup that can be found in stores and restaurants scattered throughout the country. He only owns 2,000 of those taps, the rest he rents to ensure he has enough sap to match the syrup demand.

While Fisk is always looking to expand and get his syrup to different parts of the country, what satisfies Fisk the most is his strong presence in the region. His first sales came in Temple and as he began to grow his maple syrup operation, he slowly branched out to other parts of New England.

But with the greatest concentration of syrup producers in the Northeast, Fisk knew he needed to grow his brand to places that don’t have the luxury of fresh-made maple products a short drive away.

To put it into perspective how far Fisk has come in a little over a quarter-century, Ben’s Sugar Shack produced 7,000 gallons of syrup last year. But with the addition of new land to tap, the goal for this season is between 12,000 and 14,000 gallons.

And what Fisk likes to hang his hat on is the quality of his syrup.

“I wouldn’t package something that I didn’t want at my own house,” he said. “Because if it didn’t taste good, people wouldn’t buy it.”

Fisk doesn’t get out in the woods these days as much as he used to – or as much as he would like. That’s because with a business that has grown to the point where he has 25 employees this spring, there’s a lot more of the logistical side of things on his plate.

The days are busy, with people stopping by the sugar shack to buy syrup or check on the year’s production. His phone never stops ringing with questions from employees, there’s always something to do to keep track of orders and make sure they get out the door on schedule and deliveries come through all the time.

“This is what I built my life to be,” Fisk said. “And it’s all about what you enjoy.”

While most people think of maple syrup season as a mad dash that only takes up a couple months of time, that’s not the case for Fisk. His first trees were tapped on Jan. 12 and collection started immediately. He hopes to be making syrup through the first week of April and from there it’s a couple months worth of cleanup. Prior to tapping, lines need to be checked for damage from animals or falling tree limbs, and repairs made, so it’s safe to say it’s a year-round operation.

And even when all that is taken care of, with thousands of gallons of syrup made each year, there’s making sure it gets to the stores and restaurants that want it – like the Birchwood Inn just down the road where he likes to go for Sunday brunch.

“I usually end up buying my syrup back,” Fisk said – in the form of breakfast.

Fisk grew up in a house where a strong work ethic was the norm and it’s carried into his own business.

“My dad, my whole life, would begin his day at 5 in the morning and be home after dark,” Fisk said. “It was ingrained that you had to go to work. And in this business, there’s not set hours. If there’s work to do, I usually stay to get it done. It never really ends. But I can’t complain – I do what I want every day.”

To get away from the hustle and bustle of being a business owner, Fisk has a number of hobbies that give him a chance to breathe.

“If I get free time, I usually don’t go inside,” Fisk said.

He enjoys playing a few rounds of golf each week, sometimes strategically setting up business meetings at clubs to make the most of his perceived off time.

Fisk has a deep-sea fishing boat and enjoys the thrill of being on the open water, 25 miles out into the ocean. He went to Key West in December and caught some sailfish, and has even reeled in a hammerhead shark. There’s outings on the snowmobile in the winter, although this wasn’t the best one for it, and time spent on the dirt bike in the warmer months.

There’s just something about being in nature. It’s where he feels most at home. Wandering the forest with a drill, hammer and taps in hand, carefully placing his next hole to not only maximize sap collection, but keep the trees healthy for future years.

“Trees are very unique,” Fisk said. “And the best part of being in the maple business is going out into the woods.”

And at night, if you drive by Ben’s Sugar Shack, and you see steam billowing from the addition built next to his original sugar shack, it’s probably Fisk working through the days collection to keep the syrup production going. It’s quiet and harkens back to those days when he had just over a dozen taps, making his first batches of maple syrup.

While Ben’s Sugar Shack hosts tours every weekend until Easter, the big event is next weekend for Maple Weekend. It’s one of the highlights of the year for Fisk, as he gets to showcase the ins and outs of maple syrup production – and maybe even spark that fascination in the younger generation.

“We really want to educate people on how to make maple syrup and what it takes,” Fisk said.

And after all these years, one might think that Fisk has had his fill of syrup, but that will never be the case. He tastes every batch to make sure it meets his standards because maple syrup is his life and there’s no way he could turn away from the sweet stuff that has shaped his life.


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