The woods in Gilford were alive this week with the sound of students tapping.
Trees, that is.
Like most people, students at Gilford Elementary School love maple syrup, which makes the delicious liquid a perfect teaching tool.
“Two years ago, we started tapping seven trees on our playground and collected 38 gallons of sap,” explained GES Principal Danielle Bolduc.
Last year the school increased the number of trees to 20, which ramped up their production. They collected 165 gallons of sap, which boiled down to over four gallons of maple syrup.
The students are just now beginning to tap in earnest this spring after Mother Nature was less than cooperative. Optimum conditions for the sap to run requires warm days and cool nights.
In the previous two years only fourth-graders were involved in collecting sap buckets, but this year all four grades are taking part.
This year brings something new to Gilford Elementary – they will be able to make their own syrup on-site, thanks to their own brand new sugar shack. “We spent the last year planning and building our own building,” Bolduc said.
GES representative went far afield in their efforts to learn about sugar shacks. “This included visiting Moharimet School in Madbury, N.H., who have had a similar sugar shack for more than 20 years,” Bolduc said. “Holly Burt of her school helped us out – our fourth-graders even made a visit.”
The Gilford PTA jumped in and offered to fund the building of the shack, providing $17,000 for materials, and construction took place alongside the school’s playground and soccer field at the rear of the property. Just a quick walk from the trees, it was an ideal site.
Several students traveled back and forth between the trees and the sugar shack on Thursday.
Fourth-grader Caitlin Herbert enjoyed her time with the trees. “We do this at home,” she said. “I like the smell and I like that I get to eat it too.”
Maria Pena puts syrup on pancakes and sausages and is becoming a student of the needs for times and temperatures needed for cooking sap.
Lukas Diaz and Tucker Crawford were hard at work draining the sap buckets and adding new ones. “This is real organic,” said Lukas.
Bolduc explained a little of the genesis of their sugaring project.
“I have been an educator for years and have been married to Michael of the Bolduc family of Bolduc Farm, the oldest (1779) continuous sugar shack in the nation.”
For years she and her family journeyed to Gilford to visit the Bolduc’s farm. “When I became principal here it just made sense to introduce the learners to maple sugaring. Matt Herbert mentioned that they used to tap trees behind the elementary school,” she said.
The principal said she “grabbed a drill and some fourth-graders and we went outside looking for a maple tree.”
She wasn’t familiar with the process, but everyone learned by asking experts, reading articles and watching videos.
“Our goal has always been to keep a New Hampshire tradition alive,” she said. “We want to teach our learners that they can go out in the backyard and tap a maple tree and make syrup.”
Not only is it hard work but there is some enjoyment as well.
Alison Nutter was moving from tree to tree in the deep snowy woods with fellow second-graders Brett Howard and Jacoby Drouin. Alison referred to the process as “a lot of hard work, but it is really fun.”
With the weather finally cooperating, students at Gilford Elementary are looking forward to cranking up their brand new evaporator and learning about hydrometers, the cost of a gallon of syrup, weather charts, the history of sugaring and learning about NH agritourism – lessons that all starting with tapping some trees.
A lot of helping hands led to construction of the sugar shack, Boulduc said, noting that Jason Drouin was the general contractor. “This never would have been possible without his expertise and generosity,” she said. Drew’s Affordable Steel Roofing donated roofing materials and installed the roof, while Daniel’s Electric put electricity in the building. The Gilford Rotary stained the boards and provided money, while Sunnyside Maples donated the evaporator and Province Kiln Dried Firewood provided two cords of wood for the evaporator. Porter’s Paving provided the handicapped-accessible walkway.
Bolduc is grateful for the many volunteers, town officials, and school staff members who helped make the project a reality, and she said there will be a pancake breakfast will be held at the school a little later so everyone can enjoy the fruits of their labor.
To see how GES has incorporated their sugar shack project into an instructional video, go to ges.sau73.org and learn “what you can do with an idea.”