Tappin' in Tappan

April 2, 2014
James Helmsworth
Maple sap bucket
A maple tree’s sap is draining into this bucket, as per the design of the Tappin’ in Tappan team. Photo credit: Zach Christy

Tappin' in TappanTappan Square is the perfect place for a lot of activities. Whether it's playing Frisbee, reading a book under a tree, or putting on a concert, the park hosts many functions for the Oberlin community. But this spring, some Oberlin students have put it to new use: they're using it to make maple syrup.

A group of Oberlin students, including Arthur Davis ’15, Griff Radulski ’14, and Maggie Heraty ’14, have tapped a number of maple trees in the square—sugar maples, to be exact—for their sap. The project emerged from a conversation that Davis had with Sean Hayes, the facilities manager at the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies (AJLC), which houses a number of green technologies as well as the environmental studies department, about raising awareness around local food and its production around campus. Not only does the tapping project yield delicious results but, says Davis, working in Tappan Square provides a high level of visibility. "It's a place where people are walking by every day, both students and community members. It makes it a really visible thing," he says.

According to Davis, making syrup is very easy. First, the group identified the trees they wanted to use and then drilled holes in them. Then, they inserted tubing into the holes, which they fed into buckets beneath the trees. After that, they "just let gravity do its job," as Davis puts it. Tree sap, which is essentially water and naturally occurring hormones and minerals, drained into their buckets from the tree.

The group collects the sap periodically and boils it down into the gooey pancake topping. Though, simple, it's a slow-going process: the sap must be boiled to about a 40th of its size to be flavorful enough for syrup, which has necessitated 10-hour-long boiling sessions from the team.

Presently, the group is still deciding how they'll use the syrup they make. They've given some of it to Dennis Greive, the grounds service manager who helped them orchestrate the project but they're looking into the best way to share it with the Oberlin community.

And, lest it trouble the arborphiles out there, no, tapping doesn't hurt the trees. "It's sort of like giving blood," says Davis. "We can give a lot of blood without causing detrimental effects to our own health."

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