By Annie Young
Living off of ingenuity and creativity, Travis and Joyce Miller have always valued being self reliant. They lived simply, gardened, canned, and cut sustainable firewood before it was a trend to “go green.” Their newest venture is bringing sweetness to people across the country—even around the world. Falling Bark Hickory Syrups, formally Wildwood Hickory Syrup, is a thriving small business tucked into the ridge along the Shenandoah River in Clarke County.
Two years ago the Millers decided to experiment with taking products to farmers markets. After trying a few other products, they found a process to make syrup from hickory bark. Hickory bark extract was once used by the Iroquois to help with arthritis pain. Hickory has the highest magnesium content of any plant source.
Shagbark hickory is the Millers’ species. This hickory naturally sheds its bark so no tree is harmed in the making of the syrup. The extraction process they use begins with sourcing the bark locally, starting in their own back woods. Then they clean, roast, filter, and age it, then combine the extract with turbinado sugar to create the syrup. The syrup is made in small batches carefully overseen by Travis or Joyce. A hydrometer is used to carefully monitor the sugar content. Travis and Joyce do all the work from bark to bottled syrup. They call themselves the “international production team.”
“The business has taken on a life of its own,” said Joyce. Now they are developing new products. They started making vanilla flavored syrup from organic vanilla beans. That led to making and selling vanilla extract. Other products include brandy vanilla syrup and seasonal barrel-aged rye whiskey syrup using barrels from Catoctin Creek Distillery. The syrup is aged 100 days in the used barrels. It is made and sold at Christmastime. The Millers also have honey bees, and produce a line of flavored honeys with orange, vanilla, lemon, cinnamon, lavender, chili, and lime. Is your mouth watering yet?
The syrup and honey aren’t just for breakfast. Syrups can be used for grilling glazes, marinades, sauces, salad dressing, and baking. Recipes and ideas are available on their website. Joyce’s favorite is the original flavor on ice cream. Ben and Jerry’s must have heard about this one—the Millers were surprised to find themselves shipping syrup to their Burlington, Vermont factory.
So where can you find some syrup for yourself? Falling Bark Hickory Syrup has partners with over 125 vendors including farmers markets, craft festivals, restaurants, and now, regional Whole Foods. They ship to every state and, occasionally, to places outside the U.S. You can find them in Clarke County at The Cookie Guys, Locke Country Store, Mt. Airy Farm Market, and Moose Apple Christmas Tree Farm.
Historic venues like Mt. Vernon, Morven Park, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, and Monticello also carry their product in their gift shops. A signature label is made to fit the historic museum or home, but the product remains the same sweet, smoky flavor.
Local restaurants L’ Auberge Provencale, One Block West, Tuscarora Mill, Patowmack Farm Restaurant, and Ashby Inn also serve it. The chefs enjoy having a new local ingredient to highlight in their menus. Some restaurant bartenders even put it in cocktails. Wild crafting is very popular with chefs as the “Eat Local” movement expands.
Other local farms have partnered with them, as well. Oak Hart offers it with their CSA, and Liberty Hill takes it to market with their products.
This year the Millers hope to double production. Family, including their two sons, help more and more as demand increases. And they are continually meeting people and making new connections. Each time they talk to customers, they say, they never know where that transaction may lead. But they never forget their roots, family and community support.
“We thank everyone for supporting us from the tiniest to the largest. Our lives have changed,” said Joyce. As you enjoy drizzling or downright pouring the unique flavored syrup on your food, remember what the Millers say, “Life is sweet, syrup happens!”
For information on where to find Wildwood Hickory Syrup or to order online, visit www.fallingbarkfarm.com, or call 540-327-0387. Look for them at the Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival in June.