GREENWICH, N.Y. — Upstate New York has a deep tradition with producing maple products. Generations have tromped through snow and ice to tap trees, collect sap, and boil it down to make maple syrup, candy, sugar, and more. Students from Greenwich Central School District are learning what it takes to produce maple products in the 21st century, with the help of teacher Chris Kelly, local producer Mapleland Farms, and an agriculture technology grant from the office of NY Assembly member Carrie Woerner to purchase the latest equipment.
Kelly teaches a Plant Science course as part of the Agricultural Science Department at GCSD, and he has worked maple syrup into the curriculum for six years. “We started very small, literally just boiling sap on a hotplate,” laughed Kelly. “I just wanted to produce enough so that students could get a taste of something that you can literally make in your backyard.” That small operation grew, however, once Kelly reached out to Mapleland Farms for help with a trip for students involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA) two years ago. “We had several students who had qualified to compete in FFA Leadership Development Events at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, and Mapleland Farms was gracious enough to donate the money necessary to make that happen.” The help didn’t stop there, once Mapleland Farms learned more about the Plant Science course that Kelly teaches. “They wanted to help and make sure that students got the full experience.” Mapleland Farms donated a 2’x4′ evaporator, and the program has kept expanding since then. “Running the evaporator over the last two years was definitely a learning experience for all of us,” said Kelly. “It’s good to make sure not to scorch the pans with too little sap!”
With the evaporator in place, students started with 20 taps connected with 5/16” tubing on the trees near the school. This tubing runs into two 55 gallon barrels, where students then haul the sap by hand with 5 gallon buckets back to the school for processing. This year, Kelly has expanded the operation to 100 taps, increasing the amount of sap the 30 students in his class can boil down for maple syrup.
“We’re glad to give back to the program in some way after getting so much knowledge when attending school there,” said David Campbell of Mapleland Farms. “Having a full-fledged maple operation available for students would have been a great option when I was in school. I’m happy to help and encourage the next generation of maple producers.”
To help with processing the increased amount of sap that 100 taps produces, Kelly’s class invested in a reverse osmosis (R.O.) machine using part of an agriculture technology grant. “The grant from Assemblywoman Woerner has been a real help,” said Kelly. “There’s so much technology that either didn’t exist or was cost prohibitive the last time the school had major funding to purchase equipment. We’re truly thankful to offer an updated experience for our students.” While the R.O. helps process sap faster by filtering out water and increasing the sugar content of the sap, that’s not the primary reason why Kelly wanted it for his class. “We can talk the theory of osmosis and cell walls all day. But to have a chance to show it working in real life? That’s a great teaching tool.” His students are already agreeing. “It’s really unique,” said Courtney Hopkins, a junior at the school. “I like how it saves time and makes the sap boil off faster … I like seeing the process and how it changes and turns into syrup.”
With the help of Campbell, Kelly picked out the best R.O. to use for his class. “Even with the grant, this wouldn’t have been possible without his expertise. I wouldn’t have known where to begin in picking out something like this. He’s right in the middle of chaos right now, the busiest part of the maple season, and David still takes the time to answer questions and advise us on anything we need. He even made sure to get the R.O. completely set up and ready to go for us. It’s a testament to their commitment to education. They go above and beyond. Someone is going to discover their passion and pursue it because of Mr. Campbell’s help.”
Even with all of the improvements that have been made to the maple production part of the course, Kelly is still looking forward to changing the operation in the future for educational purposes. “In the future, I’d like to set up different size tubing on some of the trees to allow the students to see what effects tubing diameter has on sap volume.” Currently, the class uses 5/16” tubing on all of their taps. A newer alternative that some maple producers have switched to is 3/16” tubing. Studies done by Cornell University have shown that if there is enough vertical drop between tree taps and the main line carrying sap to collection tanks, a natural vacuum occurs, drawing out more sap than 5/16” tubing. During tests in 2015, 3/16” tubing produced 62% more sap than their 5/16” tubing counterparts.
The class also makes sure to offer a sugary treat to its students before wrapping up for the season. “Each year, the students get to bring home a half pint of syrup. But the big consumption event is our pancake breakfast when the season is over. It’s a new group of students each year in my class, and I want to make sure that they get the full experience, from tree to plate.”
for Mapleland Farms
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