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NMH maple syrup — how sweet it is!

March 23, 2022 — It’s maple sugaring season at NMH! Over spring break, while other students were home relaxing, 14 NMH students stayed at school to collect sap from the campus woods and turn it into sweet maple syrup right here on the school’s farm.

For the spring-break sugaring operation each year, students sign up for one of two five-day stretches on the farm, and work at least eight hours each day. The program fulfills a student’s workjob requirement for either the entire winter or spring term.

Students in the program spend most of their time outdoors, tromping through the campus woods to collect sap from maple trees, or in the barn and fields tending to the animals that help with the work — oxen Finn and Fergus and draft horses Shorty and Belle — or in the sugarhouse turning sap into the sweet stuff. 

On the very first day of the spring-break operation, students collected sap from trees that had been tapped in mid-February by Farm Program Director Jake Morrow with help from students in the Science of Farming class or whose regular school-year workjob assignment was on the farm. On this day, the spring-break workjob students gathered a whopping 1,600 gallons of sap. “We call that a good run of sap,” Morrow said, adding that it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. 

The large haul of sap meant that it was time to head to the sugarhouse. There, they fired up the wood-fired evaporator and fed the fire by hand to keep it burning until all the sap boiled down into thick, sweet, tasty maple syrup. 

“It’s a giant fire but Jake teaches us what to do so we can do it ourselves and work together,” Leilani Aires ’24 explained after helping Soren Anderson-Flynn ’25 toss a few logs onto the fire. “It’s hard work, but it’s really fun work,” Soren said. 

Sometimes there are mishaps, Leilani said. “I dropped my glove in the fire and Jake said, ‘Oh, you’re definitely gonna do that again.’ So you learn it’s fine to make mistakes because you are going to learn from them and get better at doing things. You get comfortable doing the work.”

The NMH Farm uses a reverse osmosis machine to concentrate the sap before boiling it. This touch of modern technology greatly reduces the amount of time it takes to turn the sap into syrup, and also reduces the amount of firewood needed. Each year, during the sugaring season, the farm burns about eight cords of firewood, roughly a third of the amount that would be needed without a reverse osmosis machine.  

For the students, the job of making NMH maple syrup is much more than manual labor. Leilani said, “We’ve learned so much. Jake teaches us about trees and the environment, and the different methods of tapping. And we learn the history of the people who lived on this land 200 years ago. We pack so much in and we’ve learned so much.”

By the time sugaring season ends, usually in early April, approximately 20,000 gallons of sap will have been collected to make about 500 gallons of NMH maple syrup. Much of it goes straight to the dining hall where students enjoy the sweet stuff on their pancakes and waffles! 

See photos of students making maple syrup here.