What’s on Tap? Parker’s Maple
Joshua Parker was always interested in maple syrup, but his passion took off after a field trip to a maple sugar house when he was only 11 years old.
“I went home and boiled it on my stove,” says Parker. “The next year I boiled it in a turkey fryer on my porch…the year after that in a small evaporator that my grandparents bought me.”
As the sap ran over the next few years, he continued to increase the amount of syrup he produced. By the time he was 15, he was tapping 100 trees each year, but that still wasn’t enough. “Suddenly maple syrup wasn't just something that I enjoyed; it had become something that I found myself looking forward to every spring,” says Parker. “It was now a part of my life.”
What started as a childhood passion had simmered for several seasons before bubbling up into a success. Slowly, Parker began building a maple syrup business. He researched equipment, costs, and industry standards and, finally, persuaded his dad to co-sign on a bank loan that allowed Parker to found Parker’s Real Maple in May 2013 when he was 15 years old.
“We went from making 15 gallons of syrup in 2013 to a couple of thousand in 2014,” says Parker. That spring, his fledgling maple syrup success garnered the attention of North Country Public Radio (NCPR). Parker, one of the county’s youngest maple producers, was suddenly the talk of the town, and NCPR dubbed him “a young maple syrup entrepreneur with big plans.” Parker's plans became bigger and bigger and soon involved Clarkson University and, specifically, Erin Draper of the Reh Center.
After the NCPR segment aired, Draper reached out to Parker, convinced that he was the perfect fit for Clarkson’s entrepreneurial programs. The two met and Parker agreed — and enrolled in Clarkson’s early college entrance program, The Clarkson School. As part of this unique program, Parker traded his senior year of high school for freshman-level college courses at Clarkson. He soon found himself trying to keep up with a growing business at the same time and relied heavily on the resources at Clarkson to help him navigate the business world.
“When Parker’s Real Maple went from $30,000 in sales in 2014 to $250,000 in 2015, Clarkson was helping me figure out how to meet shipments, hire employees and completely reinvent my facility,” says Parker, “and they were also the ones keeping me sane, especially Erin Draper. It turned into this crazy lifestyle, and Clarkson was the solid foundation that brought me through all of it.”
In only a few short years, thanks to Parker’s vision and determination, Parker’s Real Maple skyrocketed into a national brand, transitioning from a bulk maple syrup company to a food company that counts major wholesalers like Costco as clients.
“In the spring of 2015, sales were picking up. I decided that I had to commit myself full-time to the company for a least one semester,” says Parker, now 19, who credits Clarkson’s unwavering support for his achievements and successful business growth. Clarkson allowed him to take a semester co-op to work on his company rather than enroll in regular coursework. “That was the spring we first pursued Costco. I also applied for "Shark Tank," and we created a revolutionary system for making maple butter. It was an amazing semester.”
While Parker fondly recalls the days when he was the sole tree tapper, the future continues to look sweet for Parker’s Real Maple. Now at the helm of a still-growing business based in Austin, Texas, Parker is pleased with his "Shark Tank" appearance and with how the entire maple syrup company came to be. “It’s funny how everything worked out so well — and Clarkson played a huge role in all of it!”