Groundwork Somerville

Groundwork Somerville first got in touch with us about the five-gallon buckets. The sap from the Sugar Maples was running, and they were running out of 5-gallon collection buckets.

Then yesterday Chris Mancini, the executive director of Groundwork Somerville, came to The Rock Cafe at the Divinity School to talk about his organization. Groundwork Somerville has a number of programs, from gardens in all eight of Somerville’s elementary schools to a green team working on healthy programming to a big maple syrup boil down after yearly sap-tappings.

He talked about the organization’s broad mission — helping kids gain familiarity and excitement around growing food — but also explained a little about tree-tapping and maple syrup.

Although you can tap any tree, only some trees yield the volume and sweetness that you need to make good syrup. Sugar and Black Maples have the highest sugar content in their sap, so they make the best syrup, most efficiently. The sap starts running when it’s above freezing and loses flavor once the tree buds, so there’s a fairly narrow window to tap. Groundwork Somerville has been tapping for the past few weeks.

Once the sap has been tapped, it has to be boiled down to make syrup: around 40 gallons of sap make 1 gallon of syrup. The boiling often happens at an event called a  “sugaring off” or “boil-down,” where friends gather while the sap reduces over heat (preferably a big fire) into syrup. Here’s a painting by Johnson Eastman called “Sugaring Off” from the 1860s. Things may have changed somewhat at boil-downs since then.

Since Sugar Maples produce the best syrup, I wanted to find out where the sappiest spots on the Harvard Campus are. Lucky for me, most of the work has already been done. The species and location of Harvard Yard trees are all profiled here.

Turns out we have five species of Maples in the Yard. The Sugar Maples are more sensitive to soil compaction, so many of them haven’t survived. There’s a big one next to Quincy Gate, though, and a few in the Old Yard. You know the Sugars by their five-lobed leaves and the bright red color they turn in the Fall.

We’re not tapping these trees yet. Meantime, Groundwork Somerville’s yearly Maple Syrup Boil Down Festival is next Saturday, March 3rd, from 10AM-2PM at the Somerville Community Growing Center.

And stay tuned for more community conversations around food with professors, local food activists, and food producers. This semester the Food Literacy Project is arranging smaller conversations about food around meals all over campus. At The Rock Cafe over at the Divinity School, Divinity FLP Grace Egbert has organized a series of community lunches featuring local food and local food activists. See the calendar of talks of Food Literacy Project talks here or email to get our weekly newsletter.

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