A girl learns about the history of sugaring as part of The Wild Center's maple sugaring education program. Photo by Rick Godin.
Postal workers have postal routes; milk truck drivers have milk routes. But a maple route?
Last spring, The Wild Center, a nonprofit environmental education organization and natural history museum in Tupper Lake, New York, decided to start a maple sugaring operation. All they were missing was a sugarbush. Jen Kretser, director of programs at The Wild Center explained, “We are a science museum, we have about 31 acres of land, but we only have one maple tree.”
So the museum offered a free maple workshop, a free pancake breakfast, and a bucket and tap to anyone in the community who wanted to tap their yard maples and donate the sap. They expected about 20 people. More than 80 showed up.
Each sap run, Wild Center volunteers drove from house to house and collected sap – in all about 920 gallons, which made around 23 gallons of maple syrup. The finished product was put in mason jars and slapped with a museum-designed label that read, “The Tupper Tappers.” Each participant received 50 percent of the maple syrup produced from their sap.
“The most important benefit of this project is that it allows the family that has a maple tree in their yard to experience the whole process and taste real maple syrup,” said Helen Thomas, director of the New York State Maple Producers Association. “Today, so many people have no idea where their food comes from, so this does a great deal to educate them.”
This year, the community maple project is expanding. TWC has invested in more tapping supplies and is constructing their own sugar house, complete with a reverse osmosis unit – a fancy filter that removes water from the sap. A dentist in Watertown donated a new 2-by-4 evaporator.
Because of 2012’s mediocre sugaring season, the volunteers were able to operate on a learning curve without any obvious setbacks, and prepared themselves for a productive sugaring season and an increase in community participation. Thomas said the appeal of the community maple project is bound to last. “We find that once you have tasted the real thing, it is hard to ever buy anything but.”