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Tag Archive | "Maple Syrup"

FFA celebrates with fall activities


FFA members participated in the Ag Olympics earlier this month, where they competed in various games, including sack races. Courtesy photo.

By Olivia Martinek 

Fall activities are starting to take place here at the Cedar Springs FFA. As we’re getting into the swing of a new school year, officers have been planning many events for the FFA. Unfortunately some of our officers moved this summer, but we elected a few new ones for this school year. Our new secretary is Zack Cardinal, our new reporter is Olivia Martinek, and our new historian is Marjorie Hosking.    

Two members of the Cedar Springs FFA, Melody and Michael Hughes, entered in this year’s Broiler Contest. The broiler contest consists of the members purchasing broiler chickens (meat chickens) and raising them for 6 weeks. They then pick three to five chickens to bring to Michigan State University to be judged based on their composition; the members also bring their records along to be judged.  

The FFA also participated in the annual Red Flannel Parade the first weekend in October. Volunteers worked hard after school to make a float for the parade. A big thank you to Dave Johnson for letting the FFA use his tractor to pull our float and also a huge thank you to Catherine Smith for helping organize the float workers.

On September 18, the FFA members gathered to participate in various games and activities for the Ag Olympics. Games included: marshmallow toss, egg toss, milk chug, hay bale toss, pitchfork javelin, cookie slide, and sack races. The Ag Olympics is an annual event for the FFA to get members outside for recreation and having a good time. 

Members Attend SLCCO-Pictured l to r Cecelia Brandt, Heather Beverwyk, Evan Young, Alyssa Marshall, Dylan McConnon, Mykenzie Gage, and Diane Howe.

The FFA is beginning their PALS (Partners in Active Learning Support) program. PALS is a mentorship program where high school FFA members are paired with at risk second graders to tutor them one day after school every week for an hour. So far 9 members have signed up to participate.

On Monday October 9, Mr. Reyburn’s agriculture classes took a field trip to the FFA’s sugar bush. They went to help manage the trees and clean up the woods in preparation for the winter. The students ran chainsaws, stacked wood, and cleaned up brush. In the spring, the FFA taps approximately 200 sugar maple trees, collects the sap, and then local supporter Rick Sevey makes the maple syrup for the FFA to sell. Several adults aided in running chainsaws and mentoring our future foresters; they included Wayne Marsmen, Bob Babbitt, Bill Brandt, Randy VanDuyn, and Dennis White. 

FFA members partnered with Beach Elementary to give kids a hayride, experience a corn maze, and other fall activities. Courtesy photo.

The annual FFA Harvest Day, planned with Beach Elementary, took place on Monday, October 16. The kids went through a corn maze, visited farm animals, received an apple, milk, and a coloring book, and took a hayride back to the school. 

The fall is a busy time for the FFA, but we are excited and ready. We are looking forward to the winter and spring activities to come!


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March maple syrup making is good family fun


Michigan DNR and DEQ partners make maple syrup

A “sugar stove” used by the LeSages to boil down maple sap.

A “sugar stove” used by the LeSages to boil down maple sap.

There’s an old saying that goes, “From tiny acorns grow mighty oaks.” In this case, it was maple trees and the seed that was planted was that of inspiration.

Last March, Christian LeSage, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, and his family went to Fenner Nature Center in Lansing for its annual Maple Syrup Festival.

That glimpse into how sap is turned into treats like syrup and maple cream sparked an interest in starting his own sugar bush at home in Holt, where LeSage has 1.5 acres and seven nice maple trees.

He bought a book about maple sugaring and $30 worth of gear from the local store that sells sugar-bush supplies, and his syrup-making endeavor was off the ground.

“Last year we tapped five trees and got 40 gallons of sap in one week, which boiled down to almost a gallon of syrup,” LeSage said.

LeSage has since learned that his trees are big enough to tap multiple times.

“I thought we could double production this year by placing two bags for sap collection on each tree,” he said.

In one week’s collection time, the seven trees he’s tapped yielded 85 gallons of sap.

Gather: Leona and Silas LeSage out on a maple sap gathering outing.

Gather: Leona and Silas LeSage out on a maple sap gathering outing.

The process of making maple syrup usually begins months before spiles (taps) are knocked into tree trunks in February or March. The first steps are to identify trees for tapping and collecting supplies.

Next comes the actual tree tapping, followed by boiling of the sap to kill bacteria and evaporate excess water, which turns the sap into syrup.

Last year, LeSage did some Internet research and figured out how to create a wood-powered outdoor “oven,” using cement blocks, to boil down the sap. This year, he made the stove 30 percent larger and is now running three steam trays, versus two last year, to aid in reducing the sap boiling time.

“We had to resort to using a turkey fryer for part of the boil-down this year, when the stove malfunctioned due to an electrical issue,” he said. “It’s not really a good idea to boil a lot of sap down in the house, as it will turn your house into a sauna.”

While he enjoys his family’s new hobby, LeSage admits that it can be labor-intensive.

Boiling maple sap nearing the finishing point.

Boiling maple sap nearing the finishing point.

“It takes about eight hours to boil down 40 gallons of sap,” he said. “We did 60 in one day earlier this year and that added several more hours. I ended up having to bring some lights outside after it got dark.”

It’s a process that requires constant sieving—so that the sap that burns when it bubbles up doesn’t end up giving the syrup a bad flavor—and stoking the stove with wood.

“My lower back was screaming at the end of that day,” LeSage said.

One tricky part about making syrup is determining at which point in the boiling process it is finished.

“My wife, Sarah, has that tough job. When do you have syrup? If you go too far, it crystalizes. Barometric pressure and elevation factor in too,” he said.

But LeSage’s nose helps tip him off when it’s close to syrup stage.

“It smells like cotton candy when it’s almost done,” he said.

Finding the right window of time for tapping trees can be complicated too.

“It’s a race against time,” LeSage said. “Since the temperature has to be above freezing for sap to flow but sap gets bitter when the trees start to bud.

“And once you tap trees, they’re good for only six to eight weeks before they seal up or start to develop bacteria, from what I read.”

The syrup-making hobby has become a special family affair, with Sarah, the kids and in-laws helping. Sarah works as the aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

“It’s fun to get in touch with one of the first signs of spring that’s happening right outside our backdoor,” she said.

The LeSage kids get a kick out of being involved too.

Silas LeSage demonstrates one way to eat maple cream.

Silas LeSage demonstrates one way to eat maple cream.

“My son talked about it in his kindergarten class when they were learning about trees,” he said.

Besides syrup, the family has tried making maple cream, a thick confection also known as maple butter or maple spread.

“My kids each ate a jar of that in about two days,” LeSage said.

Sarah LeSage said her kids help empty the containers of sap, but by far their favorite part of the process is enjoying the “maple cream.”

“It’s a specialty product you won’t find in grocery stores and is delicious spread on just about anything,” she said.

The family makes the syrup mostly for their own consumption. As the weekday breakfast-maker, LeSage uses a lot of it on waffles and pancakes. What he doesn’t use, he gives away.

“It’s neat because you did it in your own backyard,” he said.

Interested in getting an up-close look at maple sugaring?

Check out Maple Syrup Day at Hartwick Pines Logging Museum in Grayling on Saturday, April 1—with tree-tapping demonstrations, information on how to start your own sugar bush and kids’ activities—or visit one of the other local maple syrup festivals around the state.

Find out more about making maple treats from maple trees at several online websites, including www.tapmytrees.com.

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Maple Syrup Contest

Congratulations to the FFA for finishing 2nd place in the “Best of the West” Maple Syrup ContestCSPS-FFA-group-photo

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FFA develops sweet fundraiser


By Judy Reed


The FFA club at Cedar Springs High School and several farmers in the area worked together to create a completely new project for the students to learn about agriculture—they tapped maple trees and boiled it down into maple syrup to sell.

According to teacher Larry Reyburn, who leads the FFA, Dave Dunavan and Steve Schmidt approached him about the project, and about six students signed on for it.  Dunavan owns property next to Cedar Springs Middle School on 16 Mile, so he tapped several of his trees, and others there on the school property.

“We had about 125-150 taps in,” said Dunavan.

The students hauled the buckets of sap away and another farmer, Rick Sevey, boiled it down into maple syrup for them.

“They caught on quick,” said Dunavan. “It was a learning process and everyone had a good time. “ He said the busiest time for the sap occurred during spring break, but several of the students showed up anyway.

Reyburn said they ended up with about 10 gallons of syrup to sell to raise money for the group. They sold some at community night, and have been selling it at school. The cost is $12 per pint.

If anyone is interested in buying some to help support the FFA, they can call Larry Reyburn at the high school at 696-1200.

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Michigan maple weekends celebrate sweet agricultural heritage

A traditional bucket tap and a plastic bag tap

A traditional bucket tap and a plastic bag tap

The Michigan Maple Syrup Association is planning three weekends of celebrations focused on the state’s oldest agricultural activity during the 2nd Annual Michigan Maple Weekend. Overall, more than 25 sugar makers are participating in the festivities.

Due to the state’s diverse weather and geographical elements, events are first held in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula (south of US10), March 15-16, followed by events in the upper half of the Lower Peninsula (north of US10), March 22-23 and throughout the Upper Peninsula, March 29-30.

“The weekend provides the people of Michigan and surrounding states a chance to see how our oldest crop is produced,” says Joe Woods, event coordinator. “For many people it is a chance for them to experience firsthand where their food comes from and the work and expense that goes into bringing a crop to market. For the producer it is a chance to meet new customers, educate consumers and display the workings of a sugar bush. Together this brings awareness of the maple syrup industry to the public.”

The family-friendly events held around the state are a great time for people to get out and get a firsthand look at how maple sap is collected, boiled down and turned into sweet maple syrup and other maple treats. Many of the farms will offer tours of their operation including tree tapping demonstrations, samples of their products, recipes for the use of maple syrup and local maple syrup products available to purchase.

Visitors to a local farm will have a chance to meet the farmers and their families that produce maple syrup and to get outside and enjoy Michigan’s early spring weather. Attendees are reminded to wear boots as mud and snow will still be abundant at this time of the year.

In Kent County, you can visit Maple Hills Sugar Bush at 9450 Grand River Drive, SE, in Ada, on March 15-16 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Give them a call at (616) 676-9568.

Blandford Nature Center, 1715 Hillburn Avenue NW, Grand Rapids, is holding sugarbush community tours March 8 and 15, from 2-3:30 p.m., where you can get a glimpse into Native American, Pioneer, and modern methods of maple syrup production. You can see inside the sugar house too. Cost is $3 for members and $6 for nonmembers.

Blandford Nature Center is also having their Sugarbush Fundraiser and Festival March 22. This annual program raises funds for the nature center. This year’s event is “Tapping into History to Solve a Mystery.”

Chris Cakes Inc will be providing a pancake breakfast. Enjoy all you can eat pancakes! Try to catch as many pancakes as you can from these fast flippers! Kids, parents, and grandparents will have a great time watching these talented pancake flippers flipping hundreds of pancakes. After you fill your bellies, its time to visit the sugarbush! Take part in fun family activities that will investigate the process of making pure maple syrup. From start to finish learn about the sugaring process and visit Blandford’s Sugarhouse to taste test the final product. While you’re there enjoy all the heritage buildings, face painting, puppet shows, horses, and much more. Solve history’s mysteries with interactive exhibits, interpretative sugarbush trail and delicious pancakes! Breakfast is held 9-noon, and the festival is noon to four. Cost for Breakfast & Festival is $10 members and $13 nonmembers; just the festival is $5 members and $8 for nonmembers.

Information about other farms participating in the Michigan Maple Weekend can be found on the Michigan Maple Syrup Association web site www.Mi-MapleSyrup.com, Michigan Maple Syrup Association Facebook, or by contacting members of the Michigan Maple Syrup Association. Information can also be found at Michigan Welcome Centers.

Michigan Maple Syrup Facts:

• Michigan ranks 5th in maple syrup production in the United States.

• Average maple syrup production in Michigan is about 90,000 gallons per year.

• Economic contributions of the pure maple syrup industry to Michigan are nearly $2.5 million annually.

• Maple syrup is a Michigan tourist benefit. It is a “thing” to buy.

• Maple syrup, as an agricultural commodity, benefits Michigan farm markets.

• There are an estimated 500 commercial maple syrup producers in Michigan with some 2,000 additional hobby or home use producers.

• Michigan law requires that processor of maple syrup must be licensed.

• The production of pure maple syrup is the oldest agricultural enterprise in the United States.

• Maple syrup is one of the few agricultural crops in which demand exceeds supply.

• Only about 1 percent of Michigan’s maple forest resource is used in maple syrup production.

• In an average year, each tap-hole will produce about 10 gallons of maple sap, enough for about a quart of pure Michigan maple syrup.

• Maple sap is a slightly sweet, colorless liquid.

• It takes approximately 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.

• A gallon of standard maple syrup weighs 11 pounds and has a sugar content of 66 percent.

• Maple syrup is the first farm crop to be harvested in Michigan each year.

• Maple syrup is not the recipient of any crop support or subsidy programs.

• A maple tree needs to be about 40 years old and have a diameter of 10 inches before tapping is recommended.

• The maple season in Michigan starts in February in the southern counties and runs well into April in the Upper Peninsula.

• Warm sunny days and freezing nights determine the length of the maple season.

• The budding of maple trees makes the maple syrup taste bitter. Thus, production ceases.

• Freezing and thawing temperatures create pressure and force the sap out of the tree.

• A very rapid rise in temperature (25 to 45 degrees) will enhance the sap flow.

• While the sugaring season may last 6 to 10 weeks, but during this period, the heavy sap may run only 10-20 days.

• Average sugar concentration of maple sap is about 2.5 percent.

• Maple sap is boiled to remove the water and concentrate the sugars in a process called evaporation.

• In a conventional evaporator one cord of hard wood is required for every 25 gallons of syrup produced.

• Tubing collection systems with vacuum can increase average sap yields approximately 50 percent.

• Maple sap becomes maple syrup when boiled to 219 degrees Fahrenheit, or 7 degrees above the boiling point of water.

• Pure Michigan maple syrup has 50 calories per tablespoon and is fat-free. It has no additives, no added coloring and no preservatives.

• Maple syrup has many minerals per tablespoon: 20 milligrams of calcium, 2 milligrams of phosphorus, 0.2 milligrams of iron, 2 milligrams of sodium, 35 milligrams of potassium.

• Maple syrup is classified as one of nature’s most healthful foods.


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