Hard Work Leads to Sweet Rewards
Principia’s Sugarbush Management course provides experiential learning in a range of fields as students explore the historical, scientific, business, and conservation aspects of managing a maple-dominated woodland for syrup production.
“Students learn each step of the process,” explains biology professor John Lovseth, who co-teaches the course with mass communication professor George Cooke. “They tap the trees the first two weeks of the semester and return later to collect the sap—as much as 150 gallons in a single day. Next, they bring the sap to a rapid boil, which is a delicate process requiring constant attention. Then the sap sets in a refrigerator before it is poured into a large turkey cooker and returned to nearly boiling before bottling.”
This year’s labels for the bottles were designed by sophomore Rickie Griffin, and include the College’s “FSC” designation, a third-party seal of approval verifying that the syrup comes from a forest managed at the highest level of best practices. (Learn more about Principia’s land management and FSC certification.)
The course is indeed very hands-on. Students split and haul firewood, operate pumps, drill holes, drive ATVs and trucks, make fires, boil sap, measure trees, and use chain saws. Needless to say, safety is a high priority. “No prior experience is required,” Lovseth says, “but sound judgment and thoughtful prudence are fundamental qualities to success in the class.”
Most students thrive in this outdoor classroom. “Getting dirty is definitely part of the class,” says sophomore Abraham Noui. “And did I mention we get certified to drive the rangers? What more can you ask from a class? But that is only half of it—we learn a lot! We study tree identification and anatomy, and the correct angle and how far to tap them. During [indoor] classroom time, we go through equations to predict how much syrup we can produce from sap based on its sugar content. I love how the class promotes teamwork as well as an understanding of the science of the process.”
And then there’s the business of the process. “Part of the course is learning to manage a small business and gain an understanding of the value-added process,” Lovseth explains. “Students develop a management plan for maple products such as candy, candied pecans, and ice cream.”
Like her classmate Noui, junior Carlie Sanderude enjoys it all—both what and how she’s learning. “We learn through hands-on experience,” she explains, “not just reading from a textbook. Our class is all about making the product and understanding what we’re doing along the way. It’s probably the sweetest class I have gotten to take here (pun intended)!”
To order a bottle of maple syrup produced by the Sugarbush Management class, call the College bookstore during business hours (Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. CDT) at 618.374.5061. Choose between a six-ounce bottle for $7.00 or 12 ounces for $13.00, plus shipping.