By Cathleen Twardzik
Leading up to the Maple Syrup Boil-Down Festival, which will occur on March 9 at the Somerville Community Growing Center, three free Groundwork Somerville workshops for youngsters, aged 5 to 9, which are entitled Maple Syrup in the Library will take place.
That program, which was funded by the Friends of the Somerville Public Library and is coordinated by the children’s department, is being run by Groundwork Somerville “maple syrup” educators.
The first library event, entitled Sap and Tap, took place on February 14 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the library’s west branch at 40 College Ave. At that event, an explanation of what sap is and the reason why it “flows” in the spring, as well as the way in which a maple tree is tapped were explained to the young attendees.
The second event in the series, entitled Trees Are Our Friends, will happen on February 21 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the east branch, which is located at 115 Broadway. That event will explore the ways in which trees “change” during each season, the ways in which trees help people, and how individuals assist trees in return.
Finally, the series will conclude with How We Make Syrup on March 2 from 2 to 3 p.m. at the central library, which is located at 79 Highland Ave. That event will explore the current process by which maple syrup is made and the first person or group of people to discover the sugary delight.
In addition to the “educational programming” which occurs during the syruping season, the organization holds a workshop aimed at adults about that explains the process of making maple syrup, which is in collaboration with the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA/Mass). This year, that event took place on February 2.
Groundwork Somerville, which is a local nonprofit, coordinates the Somerville Maple Syrup Project, in partnership with the Somerville Community Growing Center, Somerville Public Schools and Tufts University.
“The mission of Groundwork Somerville is to bring about the sustained regeneration, improvement and management of the physical environment through the development of community-based partnerships which empower people, businesses and organizations to promote environmental, economic and social well-being. Our main three program areas are healthy education, green jobs, and sustainable community,” said Lee Dwyer, Gardens Coordinator of Groundwork Somerville.
Annually, the nonprofit runs an “interdisciplinary curriculum,” which spans a four-week duration and in which second graders in the Somerville Public Schools partake.
A March 8 field trip will complete the students’ learning experience. That day, students will come to the Somerville Growing Center to view the boiler in action, to play “Maple Syrup Jeopardy” and to sing songs about sap, as well as to taste syrup.
The Boil-Down Festival will take place on March 8 and 9. On March 8, approximately five to 10 volunteers will be needed, and five to eight volunteers on March 9.
The Boil-Down Festival will occur on March 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Last year, 500 people attended it.
The festival will be free and open to everyone. It will provide Somerville residents with an opportunity to view the wood-burning boiler as it evaporates sap and turns it into syrup while they savor live music, tapping demos, hot drinks, waffles and syrup.
Activities and demonstrations will be available for children on March 9 at the festival, which will include hands-on tapping demonstrations, complete with the chance to investigate the materials which American Indians and settlers from long ago used to produce sap. The evaporator will be available to see in action, and children can also discover the process by which sap becomes syrup, as well as taste the final product
Whole Foods Market is donating milk, waffle mix and cider, as well as additional items to the Boil-Down.
Bottles of syrup will be available for purchase at the event.
Throughout the year, the syrup that is produced is also given as thank-you gifts to key partners. It is sold in small maple leaf-shaped jars at the Union Square Farmers Market at the Grown in Somerville booth and at Sherman Market.
This year, Groundwork Somerville is supplying sap to Culinary Cruisers for their popsicles and seeking more local businesses to buy sap or syrup or to sponsor the Boil-Down Festival.
The process of making maple syrup proves intriguing.
“Maple syrup-making or ‘sugaring’ involves three steps: tapping, sap collection and boiling-down. We tap the trees around the end of January to early February – based on the weather – because sap begins to flow in the trees when the temperature gets above freezing during the day and goes below freezing at night. This year, we tapped on January 31. We use electric drills to drill two holes in each tree. Then, we gently hammer in metal spiles – which look like little spouts – and hang metal buckets off them to collect the sap that drips out,” said Dwyer.
The organization’s sap collectors, all of whom are “community volunteers, check on the buckets each day and collect the maple sap and transport it to local businesses like Acme Ice, Flatbread Pizza, and Kitchen Inc. for storage. Sap can spoil in a couple days if it’s not refrigerated or frozen, due to its sugar content. After four to six weeks of collecting sap, we pull the taps – when the trees start to bud – which lowers the sugar content in the sap,” Dwyer said.
“It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so we usually produce about three to four gallons of maple syrup. We then bottle this syrup and sell it at local farmers markets, events and other venues,” she said.
Then, early March brings the Boil-Down Festival. An evaporator, which was fashioned by Somerville High School metal shop students in 2005, is utilized to turn the sap into syrup.
Groundwork Somerville was launched in 2001, and took on the Maple Syrup Project a few years ago.
“The Maple Syrup Project began 10 years ago with community members interested in harvesting sap from local sugar maple trees and making their own syrup. Over time, it grew through collaboration between the Somerville Community Growing Center, Tufts University, the Somerville Public Schools and other community partners,” said Dwyer.
“I think my favorite part of the Maple Syrup Project is tapping the trees. It’s so amazing when you show kids how to drill and put in a tap – and the sap starts to flow, already – so, they can see the first drops fall into the bucket. Their faces just light up with wonder. On a warm day in February, I like to just stand on the Tufts campus, where we tap the trees, and listen to the soft ringing sound of sap dripping out into the buckets,” she said.
Individuals interested in volunteering in the Maple Syrup Project or in the Boil-Down Festival may contact Lee Dwyer at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (617) 628-9988.