Tapping the Urban Sugarbush

The Sugarbush is the term used for a forest of trees that are tapped for syrup. In Philly and surrounding area we have a forest, an urban forest. And we live in it. Our sugarbush is a bit different than you see in Vermont, New York, the Poconos or in Canada (the largest producer of maple syrup in the world) where a small number of people can tap thousands of trees and tie them together to collect the sap in a more centralized way.

Ultimately the trees are doing the work to make the sap and tapping a sugarbush, collecting the sap and processing the syrup is a laborious operation that is a time and energy intensive process during a short season compared to many other agricultural products. Much is made of needing to remove 39 (or so) gallons of water for every gallon of syrup made. Not nearly as much is made about how to collect the sap, and how much human energy that takes in a scattered site (the trees are in lots of different places usually on their own or in groups of 2 or 3) urban sugarbush. Sap is mostly water so a gallon of the stuff is basically 8 pounds. Each tree produces about 1 gallon of sap per day during the season. So 100 trees produces 5,600 pounds of sap a week. That's almost 3 tons of sap. We may not tap 100 trees this year but even 40 last year was quite an operation and left my already hurt ankle and hip even more sore.

So this upcoming season we are doing things differently. We are still collecting sap on the tree in buckets but once the bucket is empty the sap we remove will flow between large tanks, food grade hoses and pumps that we use to move the sap from the bucket to the Maple Van (or into storage buckets in the vehicles of volunteers) and then from the van to either storage or directly to the tank in the sugar shack. The goal is to make it easier for us humans to collect the sap. This is when I wish syrup was made like honey (not that beekeeping is easy), by an incredible insect that collects the sugars from plants (mostly the flowers of trees) and converts those sugars into honey. Thus tapping into community is both tagline, mission, an operational principle and a requirement- it makes it possible for us to build on the strength, talents, and creativity of one another to accomplish a very challenging goal.

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As the season comes to an end (we are boilings syrup today) it's great to reflect on all we accomplished together as a community. A community of neighbors, partners, organizations, families. It's hard

It's good. To tap into community. For us it's tagline and mission, simply put. It is also necessary. A necessity. The current state of our all too deforested urban sugarbush is that the trees just are