Summer Issue 2021

From Tap to Table: Turtleback Ridge Maple Syrup

By Tyler McDaniel

Running up and down a ridge in Robertson County, Kentucky is an intricate network of light blue tubes connecting some 200+ trees to a large tank that rests at the bottom. From these trees in Kentucky’s smallest county pours the sweet life of the forest — maple sap. After the sap reaches the collection tank, it is transported back up the winding country roads to Turtleback Ridge Farms where the McGee family boils the sap into maple syrup. 

For over 25 years the McGee family has occupied a humble farmstead at Turtleback Ridge. Over the years, the processes and outputs of homesteading have nourished the family while continuing to keep pace with contemporary operations. 

Building upon the practices established by his parents, Kevin and Susan McGee, Keegan McGee has sought to turn Turtleback Ridge into a small cottage industry of jams, beer, produce, and maple syrup. While Kentucky is not typically known for maple syrup production, the flexible climate can offer a limited — but bountiful — season for the product. 

This short documentary explores the process of maple syrup production in Kentucky alongside the history and ethos of Turtleback Ridge, which has shaped a decades-long relationship of patience, camaraderie, and reciprocity between the land and its inhabitants.

Tyler McDaniel uses his tools as a filmmaker, artist, and public historian to amplify already present voices and stories. Born and raised in Kentucky, he developed an affinity for the lesser-known histories and cultures embedded in both the built environment and the stories passed down around him.

With a BA in Media Production from Morehead State University and a Masters in Heritage Studies and Public History from the University of Minnesota, McDaniel has explored cultural oddities and socio-political systems through both rural and urban lenses. Within this approach, he develops projects that explore historical inequities as a means of exposing their impacts on the present.