Somerville Students Tap Into Sweet Education

A group of students from John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Somerville works to retrieve sap from a sugar maple tree. (Ari Daniel Shapiro for WBUR)

SOMERVILLE, Mass. — If you grew up in New England, it is something you may know well: How the sap from maple trees gets turned into sticky, sweet maple syrup early in the spring.

Tai Dinnan, of the local non-profit, Groundwork Somerville, has been teaching that lesson to a new generation of students.

“It’s a great way to integrate different lessons on science and environmental stewardship in sort of a sneaky way revolving around sugar,” Dinnan said. “When you eat the vegetables from your gardens or you taste syrup from the trees, you respect them and treat them in a different way.”

For kids, it is also fun to tap into trees.

On a chilly day recently, a small group of third- and fourth-graders crossed the street in front of the John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Somerville. They were heading minutes away to a sugar maple tree in a neighbor’s backyard. Dinnan was leading the mini-expedition to tap the tree for sap.

“So, which direction is south?,” Dinnan asked the group. “We want to tap to the south. We can tap two holes in this tree because it is so big.”

Dinnan took her tree-tapping tools out of her bag. Unsurprisingly, all the kids wanted to use the drill.

They had to drill through the bark to get to the layer just underneath — the phloem — which is the part of the tree where the sugary sap flows. About 40 gallons of this sap — an amount that would just about fill a bathtub — can be boiled down to make a single gallon of maple syrup.

Next, they had to drill the second hole. Again, the lobbying began for drilling responsibility.

Dinnan managed to give everyone a turn, hammering the taps into the tree and then hanging and covering the buckets.

Back in the school, fourth-grader Lien Alhadri raised her hand.

“The pancakes that I eat or waffles that I eat with maple syrup is really sap that comes out from a tree?,” Alhadri asked.

“Yeah, so real maple syrup is just sap that’s concentrated,” Dinnan said. “And that flavor, it’s the flavor of the liquid that actually comes out of the maple tree.”

Sometimes the densest of urban jungles really can produce the sweetest of rewards.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on wbur.org.
Most Popular