Paul Smith's College senior Tom Manitta grew up near Syracuse, collecting maple syrup from buckets. At college, he has continued that hobby, taking a class on the subject and last year working to help develop the maple sugar program at the Paul Smith College VIC.
This year, Manitta is continuing his maple sugaring work at the VIC, and is playing a key role in setting up the related education programs there. It's part of his senior capstone project to look at whether educational programs like the one at the VIC encourage people to get into sugaring, whether it be on a hobby or commercial scale.
Manitta also led the VIC's first educational maple program Jan. 28. The "Introduction to Maple Sugaring" class featured Mike Farrell, director of Cornell University's Uihlein Forest, a maple syrup research and extension field station in Lake Placid.
Paul Smith’s College senior Tom Manitta works on the sugar house at the Paul Smith’s College VIC.
Farrell's job is to promote the maple syrup industry and to help people and organizations develop programs.
"Mike is kind of the prophet," said VIC Director Brian McDonnell at the Jan. 28 presentation. "He goes around and talks about maple and we're the folks that connect with some of the folks in this area to get them to tap trees."
Farrell believes that the maple industry hasn't reached its full potential in this area, but he's helping it get there. He has helped set up community-based programs at the Shipman Youth Center in Lake Placid, Wild Center in Tupper Lake and the VIC in Paul Smiths, among others.
"It's important to realize the history of maple sugaring," Farrell said. "We used to make a lot more maple here in the U.S. than we do now. Everybody grabbed maple trees and tapped and made sugar."
At the VIC, there are about 300 trees that are tapped for maple syrup right now, with the goal of tapping another 100 in the near future. Using those trees, the VIC produced about 50 gallons of syrup in its new sugar house last season, Manitta said.
The next maple related program at the VIC is from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22 when it will host a "hands-on" session to teach people modern methods of designing, installing and maintaining a sugar bush for bucket, bag and/or tubing sap collection. The $10 per person program will be led by Farrell. Manitta, will also talk about "backyard tapping" and how individuals can be involved in the VIC's community-based maple program.
"We'll be teaching people how to set up tubing on a small-scale sugar bush," Manitta said. "It includes everything about the tools, and we're going to actually going to put up some tubing (and buckets) up in the sugar bush."
Manitta said the skills needed for starting a sugar bush are pretty basic.
"The main thing is having the materials and putting in the investment to get the stuff you need," Manitta said. "The biggest thing is the investment."
For those who come away from the workshop interested in learning more about making maple syrup, there will be two more workshops on March 22 and 29. Those require RSVPs by emailing McDonnell at email@example.com.
During that workshop, Manitta and fellow sugarmaker Kyle Dash will help participants experience all aspects of the syrup-making process. The class is once again hands on. Participants will monitor sap quality, learn to work with reverse osmosis equipment, assist with the wood-fired evaporator and draw off a finished batch of VIC maple syrup.
The program, which cost $25 per person, is part of the New York Maple Weekend. Participants will go home with a pint of fresh maple syrup.
People are also welcome to contact or stop by the VIC in between the workshops to check out the sugar bush and learn more about the programs.
"Once we get that rise in temperatures where there are warm days and cold nights, the sap will start flowing and that's when a lot of the sap comes in and we'll be boiling," Manitta said.