Before you know it, the local Geissler’s Supermarket might be selling LC Maple Syrup. Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but the maple sugaring operation on campus is growing.
What started as tapping a few trees has turned into a much larger operation that this academic year includes building curriculum into the program and the construction of a sugar shack for boiling sap and storing equipment.
Three years ago, Alejandro Rincon ’21, applied for and received a Gilchrist Environmental Fellowship, which funds environmental stewardship and sustainability projects. Alejandro’s interest was in tapping trees on campus for maple sugaring.
“That first year on campus he tapped about a dozen trees,” said Jeff Dyreson, associate director of the Alvord Center for Global & Environmental Studies. “We bought a small hobby-grade evaporator for sugaring, and he did a monthlong project outside next to our greenhouse. He produced enough to have it distributed to the Loomis community, and there was a lot of community buzz about it. A lot of his friends and others, including environmental proctors, helped.”
Environmental proctors (e-proctors) are student leaders within the Community Work Program whose focus is on campus environmental sustainability initiatives.
Alejandro graduated, but that first year would be only the beginning of maple sugaring.
“Last year was year two,” Jeff said, “and the environmental proctors took it over. We doubled down and bought a larger evaporator so now we have two. The new one is a small commercial-grade evaporator. We doubled our taps to 20, and we couldn’t keep up with the sap production. We finished with about 10 gallons of maple syrup product.”
That is no small feat. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. The maple sugar was made available to the Loomis Chaffee community, and small samples were given to alumni at reunions.
Phase Three this academic year includes the purchase of a reverse osmosis machine and more equipment and construction of the sugar shack, near Faculty Row.
“I got involved through the e-proctor program,” said senior Delaney Denno. “It was fun learning from start to finish how everything worked, from drilling the holes to putting the taps in to taking them out and finishing the maple syrup.”
Senior Sandro Mocciolo said he was led to act by Alejandro.
“When I was a sophomore, I was inspired by Alejandro to take on the program when I joined the e-proctors,” Sandro said. “And last year was when I really got involved, and the program was expanded past the more small-scale project that Alejandro started.”
Andrew Hutchinson, a faculty member who works out of the Pearse Hub for Innovation, is taking the lead on constructing the sugar shack, a small prefab building out of Vermont. Students are signing up to help with an anticipated completion date before the holidays.
“We have a philosophy in the Alvord Center of leveraging the campus as a working laboratory,” Jeff said. “We take ideas that perhaps come out of the classroom or elsewhere and can be done on campus, sugaring being an example. Making it relevant to the students’ lives, seeing a final product, seeing it bottled, tasting it … it’s a valuable and transformative experience for our students. It’s almost like professional-level work, and to give them a taste of that is unique and special. So, Loomis Chaffee has done a wonderful job of not just talking the talk, but trying to walk the walk with experiential learning, which is Sarah’s role.”
Sarah Griggs is an associate director of the Alvord Center.
“The hands-on nature of this is great, and several classes will integrate this work into their classes,” she said.
Teachers in several disciplines have contacted Sarah about incorporating the maple sugaring operation into their course work. There also has been geo-tagging of trees to see how much each produces, and computer programming being built to organize and streamline the process.
Let’s just say that the creative juices around campus are flowing, much like the sap itself will do in a few months.
All of it started with one student’s desire to tap trees. About 30 trees are tagged on campus and as many as 50 taps could be used this winter. Generally, trees are tapped in Connecticut in late February or early March, depending on the weather. Nights below freezing with days above freezing are required.
Once the sap is gathered, boils will last from about 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., typically on Wednesdays and Sundays. The days are long, but the reward is sweet.