From tree to table: Attica’s maple program is for the next generation of producers | Lifestyles

ATTICA – It’s that sweet, sticky stuff that takes a stack of pancakes from greasy flour circles to divine revelation. Without it, French toast is just soggy, egg bread and a Belgian waffle are little more than ironed dough. We are, of course, talking about maple syrup and here at Attica Central School District, our agriculture students make it by the gallon.

Attica’s maple program can date back to 2013, said Michelle Barber, an advisor for the district’s Future Farmers of America chapter, back when the FFA “was just a small club,” the former Councilwoman Jodi Rudgers was running at lunchtime.

“She would go out with the kids, set up buckets and pick them up and haul them herself to A&A Maple and go from there,” Barber said.

Maple season in Attica typically begins in February, around President’s Day, and ends sometime in March, Barber said.

“Some years we have two weeks, some years it’s three weeks, sometimes it’s a month,” she said.

This season, junior Ty Baker has played a leading role in ensuring that FFA’s sap collection operation runs smoothly. Ty, whose grandfather and uncle run MB Maple Farms on Clinton Street in Attica, brings a wealth of experience to his role.

When Ty first started helping with the district mapping program, he was still only using buckets to collect sap. While the district continues to use the bucket collection method on about 20 of its trees—primarily as a way to introduce young students to the field—most of its roughly 100 tapped sugar maples are hooked up to a centralized system of line collection which is more reliable and efficient.

“All of our lines go into a central stainless steel milk tank that was donated by Merle’s Maple a few years ago,” Barber explained. “We have a pump that we bought and Ty turns off – usually alone because of timing – and he pumps it from the main tank into a mobile tank that we mounted on the back of the district Kubota RTV and at the end of the day, on days when there’s enough sap, he goes to Todd Hofheins’ Maple Moon Farms and pumps it into his evaporator system.

Ty said an online collection system has many advantages over the more traditional bucket collection method. For one thing, buckets like to topple when it’s windy, he said, and need to be emptied of their sap daily. With an online collection system, the wind does not present such a risk. The sap constantly flows into a central reservoir, which can then be emptied all at once. And while a tree might occasionally fall over a line, “it’s not that bad to go and pull a tree out of a line,” Ty said.

Ty said the ideal conditions for sap collection are below freezing temperatures at night and above freezing temperatures during the day.

“40s would be good, 40s low,” Ty said of an ideal daytime temperature. “You don’t want it to get too hot because then the trees will bud prematurely and you don’t want it to happen too soon because then your syrup will start to taste sour.”

Throughout the maple season, Ty tracks sugar levels and monitors sap amounts so that at the end of the season, the FFA chapter knows the quality of the syrup they are producing.

“Last year we got about 12 gallons when all was said and done,” Barber said.

In the past, FFA used the syrup for its pancake breakfast, but the pandemic forced the fundraiser to be canceled last year and this year, Barber said, so FFA ended up reselling its syrup. to the district for their food service staff to use in their cafeterias. Barber said they will likely end up reselling most, but not all, of this year’s syrup crop to the district as well.

“We’ve also been asked by many teachers if they would donate to the FFA, would we be able to find some syrup,” Barber said. “So maybe we could do that too, with smaller containers.”

“When the sap flows, you flow”

This season, in addition to keeping the district’s sap collection efforts running smoothly, Ty introduced some of Attica’s younger agriculture students to the mapping process.

“College kids – their biggest progress has been with the buckets. They can get involved, but they don’t know the science of lines yet and if they want to pursue that, I’ll teach them the line collection system,” Ty explained. “You need to have the drive and motivation to learn more because it can get quite complicated there.”

Barber added, “Maple has always been a hot topic with our FFA because we either have kids who love it or kids who don’t care at all. It’s one of those things that really appeals to kids who want to be outside in the woods. It’s funny because it’s a very precise line – there’s really no middle ground.

Ty also seeks to impress upon young agricultural students the amount of hard work that a successful maple season requires.

“You have to go and you have to type and you have to prepare everything in a short time. When the sap is flowing, you run,” Ty said. “The first boil last year I was with my uncle and we started boiling probably at 7 o’clock at night and we didn’t finish boiling until the next morning at 7 o’clock so there are nights delays involved.”

This understanding and appreciation of the work and preparation required to ensure a productive maple syrup season is something that Barber seeks to impart to his students as well.

“One of the biggest things for our kids is seeing that syrup production has to happen so far in advance,” Barber said. “All the planning that goes into it in advance, the logistical things that they have to plan out, trying to get a timeline of who’s going to recover and when.”

Todd Hofheins, who boils the sap the Attica FFA chapter collects from his family’s Maple Moon Farms, runs a maple program at the Oakfield-Alabama Central School District where he works as an agriculture teacher. As such, he understands the importance of interesting young people in the field.

“I think like in any profession, you have to give the kids the opportunity to try it, see it, feel it, do it because if you look at middle age, most producers get there- high,” said Hofheins, husband of Attica Group executive Amanda Hofheins. “We need to get kids excited to keep going, start new traditions, start new businesses.”

By introducing students to the maple syrup industry when they’re young, Hofheins said there’s a better chance of sparking an interest in the field that, given time and opportunity, could lead to the creation of a new maple business.

“The best comment you can hear from kids when you’re boiling is ‘Oh my God, that would be so much fun at home,'” Hofheins said. “That’s how we started at Maple Moon – my daughter said ‘Where does maple syrup come from?'”

Hofheins, who collected and boiled sap with a neighbor as a child, started tapping a few trees with his daughter, Morgan, now a senior at Attica High School. Today, Maple Moon Farms operates about 1,500 sugar maple trees and produces about 750 or 800 gallons of syrup per year.

“We started with a few trees which turned into more trees which turned into buying more land,” Hofheins said with a laugh. “I call it an uncontrollable hobby.”

Although Ty has always enjoyed the time he spent helping his uncle and grandfather during maple season, he’s not sure it’s something he’d like to pursue as a career.

“It might be something to do on a small scale, but it’s a huge investment to do on this large scale,” he said. “There are a lot of big producers here who have invested millions of dollars in their maple syrup operations.

But even a smaller-scale operation to produce syrup for friends and family would be okay, Ty said, because in February he’d be out in the woods doing what he loves: running lines, pumping sap and boil it into syrup.

“It’s just the end result of you taking something naturally from a tree and it tastes great. It’s that accomplishment,” he said. “It’s that syrup that comes out of the evaporator – it’s just kind of this whole process that you see from start to finish, from tree to finished product, that keeps me going.”

And as for the ultimate question for any maple syrup producer worth their salt, Ty didn’t hesitate when asked which breakfast item – pancakes, French toast or waffles – is the best vehicle for fresh maple syrup.

“I should go get some waffles,” Ty replied without hesitation. “Belgian waffles are where they are. I mean, they’re all good. I will have them all one weekend.

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About Florence L. Silvia

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