GALLOWAY, N.J. – New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher toured the Stockton University Maple Project this week to observe the school’s operation. Stockton has received a pair of $500,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grants during the past two years to fund the startup of a maple sugar tapping program comprised of research, and hubs in Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, and Gloucester counties, including the one at Stockton and another in Philadelphia.
“The progress they have made here in such a short time is very impressive,” Secretary Fisher said. “The enthusiasm and knowledge of the staff have this project well on the path to success.”
On the Stockton campus, the project tapped into 400 trees this winter. The campus also has a sugar shack that houses an evaporator fueled with split wooden logs inside a Vermont cast iron stove that provides the intense heat needed to boil the sap down into syrup. It takes 44 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.
Stockton’s maple sugar project involves using modern technologies such as reverse osmosis, and vacuum assist pumps to implement an extensive sapping system on Stockton’s 1,600-acre main campus. The tapping begins in February on red maples, which have a lower sugar content than sugar maples, but are plentiful in South Jersey.
“Maple syrup production has always been about building community,” said Dr. Judith Vogel, a Stockton University Associate Professor of Mathematics, and a project coordinator. “Our goal is to build excitement for the sugaring process within South Jersey communities and to use this opportunity to better educate people about sustainable agroforestry.”
The Stockton team also includes faculty from Environmental Science, Forestry, Soil Science, Economics, and the administration.
One of the goals of the grant is to establish a community outreach program of traditional sapping methods on individual properties in the South Jersey area. The project team is looking for area residents who have access to multiple red maple trees and are willing to invest the time to collect and process the sap into syrup. The trees should be at least 12-inches in diameter. Materials and training will be provided. Participants keep the syrup and are asked to record yields and allow a Stockton research assistant to collect soil and vegetation samples from the property.
Three years of data will be collected, and the Stockton faculty will use the data to investigate the science and economic potential of a maple syrup industry in non-traditional syrup production regions, such as southern New Jersey. They will also research the environmental impact of the tapping on the trees and local wildlife.
Maple sugar operations were never developed in South Jersey due to the relative rarity of sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum) and the shorter duration of freeze-thaw cycling necessary to draw sap from trees. Ideal weather conditions are an overnight freeze, followed by above-freezing temperatures during the day.
These same regions do have an abundance of other maple species (e.g., Acer rubrum). Although red maple sap contains half the sugar content of sugar maple, the use of modern technology is now available to draw additional sap from trees and concentrate sugar with greater ease than previously known.
Those interested in participating in the maple sugaring pilot program can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Jeff Wolfe, NJDA