Senior Alejandro Rincón spent the better part of Sunday, March 7, boiling down and filtering more than 40 gallons of sap collected from trees on campus to make maple syrup as part of his environmental studies at Loomis Chaffee.
Alejo, as he is known on the Island, is an e-proctor — a student leader in environmental programs at Loomis. He began the sugaring project late in 2020 as a senior capstone project for his work toward earning a Global & Environmental Studies Certificate with his diploma at Commencement.
With guidance from Dean of Students Mike Donegan, who serves as faculty advisor for the project, and Chuck Drake, a local tree expert who is experienced with maple sugaring at nearby Northwest Park in Windsor, Alejo began his hands-on learning by researching the kind of maple trees that are best for sugaring and then locating those trees on campus. At the end of January, Alejo and Mike tapped 10 trees on Loomis property — most located near faculty housing on Beckwith Drive and Island Road.
Through the month of February, Alejo and Mike monitored the weather conditions and sap flow. With help from several of his classmates, Alejo collected the sap from the trees and stored it in 55-gallon food-safe barrels installed next to the campus greenhouse. He and Mike determined that they would collect enough sap to boil it down for maple syrup by the first weekend in March.
With a Gilchrist Environmental Fellowship grant, Alejo purchased sugaring equipment and supplies, including taps, buckets, storage barrels, and an evaporator to aid in the long, slow process of boiling down the sap at low heat to produce syrup. The fellowship program is administered by Loomis’ Alvord Center for Global & Environmental Studies, which also oversees the certificate program.
“It takes around 40 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup,” Mike explained. He added that there is a risk for burning the sap if the cooking temperature gets too high, and the evaporator helps to regulate the temperature.
Alejo said he is enjoying the chance to learn outdoors on campus — and away from computer screens — and he is pleased that his project has drawn interest from other school community members. Classmates who have helped him include senior Thierno Diallo, whose assistance with the endeavor is a capstone project for his own Global & Environmental Studies Certificate.
“I have been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm surrounding the activity of syrup production on and off campus,” Alejo said. Students and faculty have asked him about the project, and he helped a faculty family tap the trees at their home for their children to learn about the sugaring process.
Alvord Center Director Marley Matlack said she is encouraged by community interest in the sugaring project and anticipates that the success of this first learning experience will lead to maple sugaring as a regular winter activity in Loomis’ land use programs. Marley hopes there may be enough maple syrup to share with community members on campus — especially with the Pancake Society student club. She noted that Alejo’s project is one of many environmental sustainability initiatives students are taking part in this year.
By day’s end on Sunday, Alejo had produced several small bottles of syrup, and he was continuing to boil sap on Tuesday and Wednesday during the break between academic terms. According to Mike, the syrup “tasted amazing.”