Students learn the art of sugaring and more

The sap has stopped flowing and the taps have been turned off, and now students at Forest Area High School can enjoy the sweet reward of their hard work: maple syrup.

Students from northern Michigan have spent the past few weeks not only learning the art and history of maple syrup making, but also working in the woods to produce the golden liquid. They capped off the season earlier this week with a pancake dinner. The cakes, of course, were topped with their own maple syrup.

In all, the students made about 3 gallons of maple syrup. Consider that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Any bottled leftovers from the dinner will be sold to community school members in the forest region. This year, the first students ended the season with a pancake dinner.

The annual program, unique among Michigan school districts and completing its third year, is part of SEEDS EcoSchool, which promotes place-based learning opportunities in Northern Michigan. Teaching staff prioritize hands-on, outdoor activities that develop leadership, life skills, and resilience.

How the program started: SEEDS EcoSchool brought maple syrup production back to the Kalkaska County School District, which was once a staple of the school curriculum in the ’80s. A new sugar shack was built in the summer of 2020, and it’s where that the students learn about the maple grove after school. The sugar maples are located in a 30-acre forest owned by the school district. Students in grades four through eight participate in the seasonal program.


How it works:
Programming is offered four days a week after the end of the school day and six weeks during the summer. The program is free for students enrolled at Forest Area Middle School and Fife Lake Elementary School. Students measure the trees to ensure the correct size to tap, then mark the appropriate trees. They tap the trees, hang buckets and check the sap buildup daily, then empty the buckets to boil.

What he teaches: Throughout the season, students learn about botany, math, science, nutrition, local history, and teamwork. “Maple maple syrup teaches young people about many different subjects, says Joe Kreider, coordinator of the SEEDS EcoSchool site. “They use math in estimating the sugar content and how much syrup they will get from their sap. They discover the cultural importance of maple syrup production in the region. Of course there is a lot of science, learning why and how sap flows and the chemical reaction of boiling sap into syrup.

“Making maple syrup is a really fun and hands-on way for students to learn about what makes their community special and incorporate math and science into it at the same time,” says Sandy Ehlers, SEEDS EcoSchool Program Director. .

What are SEEDS: SEEDS Ecology & Education Centers is a non-profit organization that strives to implement local solutions to global issues at the intersection of ecology, education and design. SEEDS’ work focuses on local activities that regenerate habitat, prevent carbon emissions, develop talent pipelines for green industries, and invest in future generations.

Resources: Funding from the Michigan Department of Education through the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Center program. Construction of the sugar shack was a partnership between the school, SEEDS Ecology and Education Center, Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative, Great Lakes Energy People Fund, Traverse City Rotary Good Works, Grass Natural Area River and the community of Fife Lake.

And after: The organizers would like to add a chimney to the sugar shack so that the students can boil the sap inside. Currently, the building is used to store equipment and the boiling of the sap is done outside, which poses a problem in the event of rain. The organizers would also like to build a pavilion to allow for a year-round outdoor classroom. Kreider estimates the projects will cost at least $5,000.

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