A love of the mountains and its people: Seth and Cheryl Long’s sweet business idea

SouthDown Farm’s Sheryl Long demonstrates how the sap is turned into syrup using the evaporator.

SouthDown Farm’s Sheryl Long demonstrates how the sap is turned into syrup using the evaporator.

ERMINE, Ky. – Seth and Sheryl Long came to Letcher County 28 years ago to volunteer for the summer.

They fell in love with the mountains and its people, and they never left.

Seth and Cheryl grew up in rural and agriculture-rich Pennsylvania.  Seth is the executive director of HOMES (Housing Oriented Ministries Establish for Services, Inc.), the same organization in which he and Sheryl volunteered during the summer of 1991.

The couple owns a 55-acre tract in rural Letcher County, and three years ago, they embarked on a venture to produce maple syrup from an abundance of maple trees found on their property.

SouthDown Farm was formed.

While Seth and Cheryl recognize that some think their enterprise is innovative, it is actually a practice that was common among Native Americans and other early settlers in Appalachia.

Seth Long, of SouthDown Farm, describes the technology behind maple sap collection and syrup manufacturing.

Seth Long, of SouthDown Farm, describes the technology behind maple sap collection and syrup manufacturing.

“People in their 80’s remember their parents and others making maple sugar and syrup,” Seth said. “They did this out of necessity as sugar was expensive and difficult to get in these rugged mountains.”

For the Longs, the innovation comes by tapping into distant memories and making it new again as the region explores ways to bring new opportunities to its people.

“Innovation is often thinking about latent assets we have in a community,” Seth continued.

“What do we have that we are not using, then when they are identified how can we make the best use out of them using creativity to drive change.”

Where does innovation come in?  The Longs are utilizing 3/16” lines for production of the 220 maple trees on their property.  This increases sap yields without the use of mechanical vacuum systems.  They also recently added a Reverse Osmosis machine, which is used to remove up to 90% of the water in the extraction process.  This also reduces boiling times for the syrup, allowing the Longs to tap more trees and collect more sap.

SouthDown Farm also plans to launch a website soon.  They received a grant from the Mountain Association of Community Economic Development (MACED), a Blueprint Partner of SOAR, to develop a website and e-store for the farm.

“Our goal is to sell our syrup and other value-added products outside the region,” Seth added.

The Longs believe there is great potential to scale up their business.  Jeffery Justice, a Business and Innovation Champion at SOAR Innovation, believes that the SouthDown Farm has the potential to ship goods all across the globe.

“Their product is pure, and many consumers are looking for products that are genuine and products that have a great story behind the brand,” said Justice. “Seth and Sheryl have both.  They understand the importance of a quality product and the role technology can play in creating a better-quality product and allowing them to use that same technology to tap into more trees and create more products.”

SOAR Innovation is a partnership with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s KY Innovation office.  It works with innovation-led or innovation-capable small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs who wish to greater leverage technology to create new markets and grow existing markets through e-commerce or exporting.

“The Longs are prime examples of how quality of life and quality of place matters,” Justice added. “This is something that brought them here nearly three decades ago, and it is something that undoubtedly led to this new venture.”

Seth has worked to build 243 homes in Letcher and surrounding counties since 1991 with the HOMES, Inc. program, including 50 units for rental housing and countless renovations.  HOMES, Inc. also helped construct the new overlooks on Pine Mountain for Letcher County Tourism. He also helped establish the Appalachian Heat Squad, a Fahe program which assists home owners with ways to be energy efficient to save on their power bills.

For more information on SouthDown Farm, contact the Longs at (606) 632-1717 or by email at sethlong@bellsouth.net.