Beneath the metal roof of a long shed at the Central New York Regional Market, amid vendors hawking old CDs or fresh vegetables, Max and Esther Leonard embody one sweet institution: In a voice like an old wind chime, above jugs of maple syrup, Max spends every Saturday chanting, "Free taste!"
"We come here half for the syrup and half for the people who sell it," said Judith McIntyre, of Utica. She and her husband, Pat, have been customers of the Leonards for many years. Like hundreds of market regulars, Judith has trouble imagining the place without white-haired Max and Esther, both 87, who converse gladly about the maple business with anyone who stops
The Leonards got started with maple syrup during World War II, when wartime rationing left many families without sugar. Max and his dad, seeing an opportunity, got busy tapping trees. Gradually, as his father aged, Max took over. He kept buying land until the place grew to about 340 acres. By the late 1980s, he was ready for a break: Max leased most of the farm to his son Bill, who would later hand over the dairy business to his son, Dan.