Maple Sugar Season: A Sweet Point of Entry to Community Engagement… and Learning!

2016 Maple Sugar Season

How sweet the end of winter is here in western Massachusetts – and not just because the snow is beginning to melt! Warmer temperatures signal the start of sap flow in sugar maples, whose frozen and sleepy roots and limbs come alive when the landscape begins to thaw. Maple sugaring is a centuries-old tradition in New England, and the seasonal industry remains an important part of the foundation upon which local agricultural is built. Additionally, maple sugaring brings opportunities for families to engage in intergenerational community-based learning through visits to farms, community meals, living history, and experiential hands-on activities. 

Sugar Shacks

Sugar shacks are small cabins where maple sap is gathered and boiled down to syrup. Tours of sugar shacks are primary-source opportunities to learn about local history, New England culture, local economy and technology.

MassMaple.org has a comprehensive list of sugar shacks in Massachusetts, including South Face Farm (Ashfield). South Face Farm is open daily, offering tours of their facility including displays of educational and antique maple equipment. Dress warm, arrive curious & ask questions:

  • What has changed over the years? What is the same?
  • How much sap makes a gallon of syrup?
  • What are the different grades of maple syrup?
  • How does the weather affect syrup production? Why?

Living History

Families can experience what maple sugaring was like in the days of old New England at living history events where museum interpreters dressed in period clothing demonstrate life and skills from Colonial New England, including: tree tapping, sumac spile making, sap boiling over a fire, open hearth cooking, and other early American skills. At living history museums, history comes alive and are wonderful community-based resources for curious minds wanting to learn about New England history and lore of maple syrup. In March, two living history museums in our region will be hosting Maple themed events:

Saturdays 9:30am-4pm and Sundays 9:30am-4pm in March
Maple sugaring is a centuries-old tradition in New England, and the seasonal industry remains an important part of the foundation upon which local agricultural is built. The production of maple syrup is historically important in part because it is one of few North American agricultural processes that is not a European colonial import. The sugar season is weather dependent since the sap needs to thaw in order for it to be harvested. Sugaring, therefore, is not only a historic tradition and a part of industry; sugar harvesting signals that Spring is near! Come to Old Sturbridge Village on a Maple Day in March to witness maple harvesting techniques, including methods employed by Native Americans, early 19th and 20th century techniques, and contemporary tubing. 800-733-1830. 1 Old Sturbridge Village Road. Sturbridge, MA. ($)

Sunday, March 13, 2016 11am-3pm
At Storrowton Village Museum’s annual Maple Harvest Day you will learn about the historic tradition of maple sugaring through tree taping and sap boiling demonstrations. Maple sugaring is a centuries-old tradition in New England, and the seasonal industry remains an important part of the foundation upon which local agricultural is built. The sugar season is weather dependent since the sap needs to thaw in order for it to be harvested. Sugaring, therefore, is not only a historic tradition and a local industry; sugar harvesting signals that Spring is near! Celebrate the soon-to-come warmer weather with your fellow community members at the Gilbert Farmstead home while also enjoying open hearth cooking demonstrations. 413-205-5051. 1305 Memorial Ave, West Springfield, MA (<$-$)

Educational Farms

We have a number of farms in our region that are also education centers, including Bug Hill Farm (Ashfield),  Just Roots (Greenfield), Holiday Brook Farm (Dalton),  Red Gate Farm (Buckland) and Winterberry Farm (Leverett). Families can call ahead and see if they are offering farm-based educational events and opportunities during maple syrup season or other times of the year.

Community Celebrations

In addition to living history museums, educational farms and sugar house visits, families can further engage with their community by attending a community celebration to celebrate sugar season and the coming of spring. Participating in a community celebration helps children discover their own local culture and the cycles of the seasons marked by annual celebrations.

Saturday, March 12, 2016 11am-2pm
Maple sugaring is a centuries-old tradition in New England, and the seasonal industry remains an important part of the foundation upon which local agricultural is built. The production of maple syrup is historically important in part because it is one of few North American agricultural processes that is not a European colonial import. The sugar season is weather dependent since the sap needs to thaw in order for it to be harvested. Sugaring, therefore, is not only a historic tradition and a still thriving part of industry; sugar harvesting signals that Spring is near! At Williams College’s Maplefest, you will be able to try your hand at tapping a tree and gathering sap. You will witness every step in the sugaring process right down to bottling the final product. This event is free to the public and appropriate for people of all ages; it will be held regardless of the weather. Transportation will be provided from Chapin Hall on the hour. Office of communications: 413-597-4277. Hopkins Forest, (at the junction of Bulkley Street and Northwest Hill Road in Williamstown). Williamstown, MA. (FREE)

Tree Identification

Families interested in sugaring can use maple sugar season as an opportunity to support place- and community-based studies of math and science, allowing children to learn new skills and concepts within a meaningful context. In order to successfully produce maple syrup, families must first learn to accurately identify trees. Some farmers joke that poor tree identification leads to the production of “pole syrup” – meaning that tapping anything other than a sugar maple is like tapping a telephone pole! During the winter, tree identification can be tricky. Young naturalists will need to look closely at the tree’s bark, tiny buds, and twig growth patterns in order to identify each species of maple. Identification is easier after trees have leafed out, but once the buds begin to pop, the sap stops running!

Community Meals

Community meals are the perfect intergenerational opportunity to sit down with neighbors of all ages, making connections and nurturing relationships across the generations. During sugar season, look for pancake breakfasts in your community, arrive hungry and ready to meet and greet your neighbors.

Enjoying a meal with local maple syrup during a community pancake breakfast does more than fill your belly… it strengthens the social fabric of community by nurturing a sense of place in our children, and often times, raising money for our school and community organizations! Here’s a community pancake breakfast happening this weekend:

Saturday, March 12, 2016 8am-11:30am
Can you name a North American agricultural practice which did not originate from Europe? The process of maple sugaring is one of the few. Celebrate New England history and the upcoming Spring season at the Buckland Public Library with a community pancake breakfast! Enjoy locally sourced syrup and meet maple sugar harvesters. Alan Young will be selling his handcrafted wooden spoons. Purington Maple and Tree Farm will be selling their maple syrup. At this intergenerational event you can meet your neighbors and discuss seasonal traditions in anticipation of Spring. 413-625-9412. 30 Upper St, Buckland, MA. (FREE)

Museums

Saturday, March 12, 2016 10am
You and your family can learn about maple sugaring while checking out the art and natural history exhibits at the Berkshire Museum. In the Learner’s Lab, visitors will find out how to collect and process their own maple syrup. Maple sugaring is a centuries-old tradition in New England, and the seasonal industry remains an important part of local culture. Learning how to collect maple syrup is a way to interact with the past and present of New England community. 39 South St, Pittsfield, MA. ($. Under 18 <$)

Math and Science

On top of species identification, aspiring sugar makers must also learn about the science behind sap, and the math and chemistry that makes it turn from sap to syrup when heated. Collecting sap, measuring its volume, and then calculating the volume of syrup produced after boiling presents the opportunity to explore ratios within a real-world context, and learning how to boil sap with success lends itself nicely to an exploration of boiling points, states of matter, and energy!

Literacy

Families can further explore the history, culture, and science of sugaring by reading together – Kathryn Lasky’s Sugaring Time and Jessie Haas’ Sugaring share the magic of sugaring season in New England, while Rick Mann’s Backyard Sugarin’ is a comprehensive and accessible guide to home syrup production!

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