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From Sap to Syrup: Maple Syrup in Upstate New York

By Sustainability Office on April 30, 2018

– Chaveli Miles ’19

February through April is the sweetest time of the year. When temperatures finally rise above freezing during the day, sugaring season begins! At Colgate, two community-based projects on local maple syrup production have been conducted as part of the interdisciplinary Environmental Studies course, ENST 390.

The first project was conducted in 2014 in Professor Galusky’s ENST 390 course. Andrew Mazen ‘15, Sarah DeFalco ‘15, and Drew Myers ‘15 examined the history and current production of maple syrup in Madison County, New York. They found maple syrup production fostered a sense of community and tradition as current sugar makers represented a lineage of sugarmakers spanning several generations. Using this information, they described various considerations for maintaining and improving future maple syrup production in the county.  

This semester, in Professor Helfant’s ENST 390 course, Quinn Kim’ 19, Carol Rodriguez ’18 and Will Besen ’19 are assessing the practicality of establishing a maple syrup operation on Colgate’s campus. This may be a possibility in the future as central New York has always been a main producer of maple syrup. New England, Michigan, and parts of Canada also produce maple syrup.

The sugaring season can last about 4 to 6 weeks depending on the weather. Consistent temperatures that fluctuate between above freezing during the day to below freezing at night are necessary to build up pressure within the trees, causing the sap to flow from carefully drilled holes in the tree. A well managed sugar maple forest can be used to sustainably produce maple syrup for over 100 years.

When the sap is first collected, it only contains about 2% sugar. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. Centuries ago, sap was collected and boiled until the final product was granulated maple sugar. This is why we say “sugaring season.” When granulated sugar from the sugar cane plant became more widely available, sugar makers started boiling their sap less to create a sweet, amber syrup.

Could Colgate become a little hub for maple syrup production? Until then, New York maple syrup is available at the Hamilton Farmers Market, Hamilton Whole Foods, Parry’s, and even Price Chopper. Buying locally produced syrup is an easy, and delicious, way to support local businesses and welcome spring in the Northeast.   

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