AgEBB-MU CAFNR Extension

Linda Geist
Senior Information Specialist
University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group

March 2, 2017

Returning veteran finds sweet success
Marine is one of 300,000 veterans expected
to return to Missouri in the next decade.

MARK TWAIN LAKE, Mo. - Smoke billows from the sugar shack where U.S. Marine veteran Jeremy Beaver cooks maple syrup.

It is a crisp Sunday morning. A sweet, smoky smell and the sound of children playing fill the woods.

Beaver likes the quiet of the woods where he taps maple trees for syrup. Equally, he likes the sound of his sons playing with their tractors or the laughter of friends enjoying ATV rides and barbecue while he tends the syrup.

After serving two tours of duty in Iraq, he wraps his family in the comfort and safety of rural life. The only conflict this morning is the good-natured one between his sons, who are having a tractor pull.

Beaver and his family operate Big Beaver Maple Syrup on 40 acres of woods near Mark Twain Lake in Ralls County. It is the second year they have tapped some of the 200 maple trees around their house and sold amber deliciousness in a bottle.

Beaver is one of more than 300,000 post-9/11 veterans expected to return to Missouri in the next decade, says University of Missouri Extension's Karen Funkenbusch. More than 44 percent of military recruits come from rural communities, according to U.S. Census data. Many of them will return to their rural roots, beginning or resuming careers in agriculture. Funkenbusch heads a 2501 USDA grant to help beginning farmers, veterans and others evaluate and plan their farm enterprises.

Inspired by 9/11, Beaver enlisted in the Marines right after high school and served in Iraq as a combat engineer. His unit sought out enemy weapons caches.

One of his fellow Marines introduced him to his sister, Chandra. They married and lived in New York before moving to his hometown of Monroe City. He now works in construction for the Missouri Department of Transportation. His wife is a nutrition program associate for MU Extension in Monroe County.

Their daytime jobs allow them to enjoy rural life and activities such as making maple syrup.

Making maple syrup is common in Chandra's home state of New York, the second-largest producer of maple syrup in the U.S. It is less common and less commercial in Missouri.

Chandra and Jeremy were eager to add value to their small acreage by selling maple syrup. They also like having local food sources, such as beef, chicken, eggs and garden produce.

The Beavers tapped 60 trees in 2016. They hope to tap 100 this year. They tap trees before budding, usually in February.

Proper tapping does not harm the trees. Cold nights and warm days help sap flow best. Trees produce sap for about 28 days. Early sap makes the lighter-colored and delicately flavored syrup preferred by many over later-season darker syrup.

They tap trees by drilling a hole at an upward angle. The spile (a spigot) fits into the hole, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep. A bucket is hung to collect the sap. They haul buckets of sap in a small wagon attached to an ATV to the sugar shack.

The sap drains from a gravity flow tank into a warming tank. The warmed sap then slowly drips into the evaporator to cook on a wood stove. The process is long and slow. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.

They check buckets often to avoid overflow. Because Jeremy and Chandra have full-time jobs, they tap and cook on weekends, often into the wee hours of morning.

They put syrup in double-sealed bottles and tag them with the "Big Beaver" business card. The name is taken from Chandra's maiden name, "Bigelow," and the "Beaver" family name. They sell through word of mouth to weekenders at Mark Twain Lake and in small area retail outlets.

The Beavers are learning to establish and market their product through MU Extension's Business Development Program. (Learn more about the program at

Making maple syrup is a family affair for the Beavers. The boys are competitive about who can help their father the most. Recently, Jeremy awoke before daylight to f

Photo available for following caption Photo credit: Linda Geist

Marine veteran Jeremy Beaver and his family make and sell maple syrup near Mark Twain Lake. Beaver is one of 300,000 post-9/11 veterans expected to return to Missouri in the next decade.

Photo available for following caption Photo credit: Linda Geist

Red, white and blue buckets dot the woods near Mark Twain Lake where maple trees produce sap for syrup made by Marine veteran Jeremy Beaver. Beaver returned to his rural roots after serving two tours of duty as a U.S. Marine in Iraq.

Photo available for following caption Photo credit: Linda Geist

It takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup. Veteran Jeremy Beaver returned to his rural Missouri roots after serving as a Marine in Iraq. He and his family run a maple syrup business on 40 acres of woods near Mark Twain Lake.

Source: Karen Funkenbusch, 573-884-1268

Return to Current News Releases

MU Extension
College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources
MU Extension Commercial Agriculture Program