E-mails went out on a Friday in early March, calling in crews who had been waiting on standby for more than a week. Out in the Hampshire College fields and deep in the muddy, snow-packed forest, sap was starting to run.
Maple syrup season had kicked into gear.
It takes just the right mix of weather, freezing nights and warm days, to get maple sap flowing. Farm manager Leslie Cox knows just how temperamental trees can be. He's been making syrup for years, and when he arrived at Hampshire in 1999 he was asked to start a program on campus.
In the decade since the college's maple sugar shack was built, hundreds of students have been involved in the process—slogging through late-winter mud to collect clear, watery sap for delivery to the shack, where it's precisely boiled down into amber syrup. Whether they're studying dance, physics, art or literature, Cox says anyone on campus can try their hand at syrup making.
Noah Kellerman 07F is one of the regulars at the shack. He used to make syrup back home in Essex, MA, so this isn't as much a novelty for him as it is for some. Still, he enjoys getting out in the woods at winter's end, then cooking the sap down in the evaporator for bottling. The syrup also fits in with his culinary philosophy, since he's part of a group of students who try to eat locally grown and produced foods as often as possible. Figuring out how to do that, he says, is a learning process that can unintentionally cause some chuckles among the more experienced.
"Some students were a little unclear about tree identification, so a few taps ended up in oak trees," he says.
That, says Cox, is why he likes to get the students out into the field. The more involved they get, the more they understand about the local ecology. And with a better understanding, he hopes they'll be able to appreciate what's around them with more perceptive eyes. As for the syrup itself, that's a nice byproduct, and one that can only be made between the time winter starts to melt, and spring begins to bloom.