Over a period of six weeks this spring, several students dedicated much of their free time to the collection of sap from St. Olaf’s very own maple trees.
“I tapped maple trees for a couple years with my dad just growing up,” Henry Raether ’15 said. “It’s something I’ve been doing for a while, and I wanted to bring it to the Hill. There have been a few other people who have done it, but I wanted to do more of a bottling process and actually sell it to students.”
Getting the project off the ground was a challenge in itself.
“Olaf is pretty protective of the land and the trees, so getting approval to do the project was pretty tough,” Raether said. “We had to prove that we were organized, knew what we were doing – I think the fact that I’d done it before was kind of convincing as well – and that we were actually going to benefit the St. Olaf community with this project.”
After gaining approval and funding through St. Olaf, Raether, along with fellow students Rachel Lee ’15, Ben Marolf ’15, Alex Bauch ’15 and Liam John ’16, quietly placed 25 taps throughout a grove of maple trees by Heath Creek, which is a part of St. Olaf’s Natural Lands. Over the course of six weeks, they were able to collect over 300 gallons of sap.
“We would just go out there everyday or every other day, depending on how fast the sap was running, and check all the trees, and empty the bags if we needed to,” Lee said.
The collection of the sap alone was a labor-intensive project, but the cooking process turned out to be even more difficult.
“We did a boil by ourselves using propane, and that took eight hours to boil only 30 gallons, so we made pretty much nothing,” Raether explained.
The team realized that they could not realistically cook a significant amount of sap on their own, and that’s when they approached Randy Clay about using Stav Hall’s kitchen to cook their sap.
“[Randy Clay] was integral to our success,” Marolf said. “Because we had these industrial boilers up in the kitchen we were able to do it in three and a half or four hours to get it from fifty gallons [of sap] down to one gallon of syrup.”
The hard work certainly paid off for the Manitou Maple team. Their most recent batch of syrup sold out after less than an hour and a half of tabling in Buntrock.
“A lot of people don’t know the process, and don’t have an appreciation for how maple syrup is made,” Raether said. “We really gained perspective about [how] tedious and meticulous the methods are to make maple syrup.”
“You learn a lot about where your food comes from, what food is around us and how it does take a lot of effort to make that food, and I think we don’t appreciate that,” Lee said.
In an effort to give back to the community, Manitou Maple partnered with, and donated all the proceeds from, their maple syrup to the Chloe’s Fight Rare Disease Foundation.
“We decided it would be nice to give back to the outside community in some way and raise awareness, and I felt like this would be a good way to do that,” Raether said.
Though many of the team members will be graduating this May, Raether is hopeful that the project will be carried on for years to come.
“The hope is that this will be a continual thing and that every spring weekend we can sell maple syrup.” Raether said. “I think the local aspect is really cool. It’s literally our backyard and we’re just harvesting the sap that occurs every year. The flow occurs every spring and people just don’t realize it.”