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Stockbridge Valley FFA syrup production educational, profitable

Mike Jaquays
Staff writer
Posted 2/22/23

Mother Nature prompted an early tree tapping and sap collection this year for Stockbridge Valley FFA members preparing to process their own maple syrup.

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Stockbridge Valley FFA syrup production educational, profitable


MUNNSVILLE — Mother Nature prompted an early tree tapping and sap collection this year for Stockbridge Valley FFA members preparing to process their own maple syrup. The warm temperatures sent them into the woods by the school to tap trees early and they had collected enough sap to start boiling by the Wednesday before winter break.

That is very unusual, SVCS agriculture teacher and FFA co-advisor Erin Smith said, but their syrup season is always at the whim of the weather.

“Mother Nature has a mind of her own,” Smith said. “We have tapped before break before this but this is definitely one of our earliest years.”

Making maple syrup gives Stockbridge Valley Central School students an educational opportunity that gets them out of their classrooms and out into the woods, where they place some 500 taps and run tubing to bring the sap from those trees into collection tanks. They boil that sap down into syrup in their sap house, located across the street from the school building in the Ray Lighthall Agriculture Educational Facility.

That facility was named for Smith and fellow ag teacher and co-FFA advisor Patty Waldron’s much-loved longtime FFA advisor predecessor.

Smith said she makes sure any time she spends in the sap house is spent with students, so every trip out to the building is also a time to teach as well as boil sap into syrup. She has some colorful analogies to help them remember: the change in color as the sap boils into syrup is akin to the darkening of bread as it toasts, Smith tells her students, and the evaporation process producing distilled water is just like evaporating water rising to the clouds.

Smith explained 43 gallons of sap is boiled down into a single gallon of syrup. They boil the sap until they achieve a 66.7% sugar content.

Their maple production also gives them a bit of profit that benefits the Stockbridge Valley FFA chapter based at the school.

SVCS junior Madison Nolley said she never knows what to expect when visiting the sap house ... and that is a good thing.

“I love the fact that no two days of making maple syrup are the same,” she said. “There will always be a new challenge or something exciting that happens every time you turn on the evaporator.”

SVCS sophomore Sullivan Tifft said he is new to making syrup this year and he is happy for the opportunity for the hands-on work. “I enjoy being outside a lot more than being in the classroom,” Tifft said. He added he has enjoyed working with the Stockbridge Valley FFA program’s maple production at the school so much that now he wants to tap his own trees at home.

Participating in the maple production is a great way for all of the students to see where an agricultural product comes from before it reaches their tables at home, Smith said.

“This helps them to understand what goes into a $50 gallon of syrup,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of work, a lot of equipment and a lot of investment. I think this helps them appreciate what it takes to bring that bottle to their table and I hope that then translates to everything that they do.”

Nolley is the Senior High Strengthening Agriculture vice president for the Stockbridge Valley FFA chapter. She said she has gotten many valuable and unique experiences through her FFA membership.

“My favorite thing about FFA has to be the once in a lifetime experiences I get from it,” Nolley said. “A few examples are meeting Nelson Mandela’s grandson, getting to sit in the United States Senate along with the Senate pressroom and getting to tour Washington D.C. I love that I get to advocate for an industry that is so important to me and all of America.”

Smith explained that FFA was once known by its original full name of “Future Farmers of America,” but in 1988 that was changed to simply the initials to reflect its heritage while acknowledging that the international organization is now about way more than simply farming. While keeping an agricultral theme, today’s FFA also includes public speaking and leadership training and produces future teachers, doctors, scientists and business owners.

She recalled last year was an “average” year for their maple syrup production, delayed a bit because of COVID. She didn’t want to predict what the syrup production season for the SVCS students would be like this year, because the weather is so unpredictable.

“Like every ag product the weather dictates what we do and when we do it,” Smith said.

Stockbridge Valley FFA maple syrup is available year-round at the business office at the school, 6011 Williams Road, during school hours.


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