Maple farmer known for his sweet soul

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 March 2014 at 12:00 am

Terry Laubisch, 66, owned Flyway Farm in Shelby

Photo by Tom Rivers – Terry Laubisch posed for this picture on Feb. 3, 2012, part of a series of portraits of farmers and their hands. Mr. Laubisch died on Feb. 20.

SHELBY – Drive on Route 63 in Shelby and you’ll see a sign for Flyway Farms, noting a maple syrup producer is on West Shelby Road.

Many maple producers in the state have the signs on state highways, pointing potential customers to sugar shacks on rural roads. Terry Laubisch pushed for the signs more than a decade ago. He saw how vineyards and wine trails used the roadside signs to brand their product and help promote tourism.

The Flyway sign near Laubisch’s farm was the first for all the maple producers in the state. It’s one of the many ways Laubisch helped promote the maple industry in New York, which is the country’s second-leading maple producer behind only Vermont.

“That really helped get customers out there to some of the places off the beaten path,” said Lyle Merle, a maple producer from Attica.

Laubisch was 66 when he died on Feb. 20. He was a participant in the popular Maple Weekend events in March, when producers opened their sugar shacks to the public. Laubisch saw the weekend as another way for maple producers to promote their industry.

“He was creative and innovative and always looking for new ways to do things,” Merle said.

Laubisch and Merle had a friendly rivalry every State Fair when their syrup and maple flavored products were judged. Laubisch perennially challenged for some of the most prestigious awards. He took pride in the quality of his syrup.

He urged the other producers to use the blue ribbons and awards to help brand NY maple as a superior product and to help the individual farms sell their syrup.

File photo by Tom Rivers – Terry Laubisch opened Flyway Farm in 1990. He tapped 900 maple trees.

The other producers welcomed Laubisch’s ideas, whether it was in selling the syrup or trying technology and techniques for tapping trees and making maple products. However, one time Laubisch had an idea that had the other producers shaking their heads in disbelief.

Laubisch saw the popularity of cotton candy and he thought a maple-flavored cotton candy would be a big seller. The cotton candy machine would have to be altered for maple, and Laubisch talked the manufacturer into making the changes.

“We thought it was crazy,” Merle said.

Maple cotton candy has been a sensation at the State Fair in recent years. Laubisch was often behind the booth, volunteering and happily selling the treat.

“I was impressed with that,” Merle said. “He found a way to make it happen.”

Laubisch and his wife Pat tapped about 900 trees for Flyway Farm. They attended many industry events. Mrs. Laubisch said her husband liked to experiment with maple and growing orchids. If Laubisch was involved in something, he gave it his full attention, his wife said.

“He was a special man who did it all and did it in a big way,” she said.

Laubisch first tapped trees and captured the sap with lasagna pans. He learned to use sophisticated equipment, and had a network of tubes to collect and move the sap at his maple farm.

When he made a discovery or perfected a process, Laubisch would eagerly share what he learned. He taught maple classes at the Erie County and State Fairs. He served as a director on the NYS Maple Producers Association and also was a president for the NYS Maple Foundation.

“Whatever Terry got into, he jumped in with both feet,” his wife said.

Friends and family celebrated his life this past Saturday during a memorial service at East Shelby Community Bible Church. For many summers, Laubisch and his wife manned the candy store at the church’s Old Fashioned Day celebration.