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Photo: Annika Krause and Katerina Friesen share their maple syrup for morning break. The lighter-colored syrup is from earlier in the season; darker syrup is from later, and the darkest is the result of the outdoor boiling at the fire pit.

On her recent visit to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, SSA program manager Laura Leavell was deeply impressed by AMBS students’ harvesting maple syrup from campus trees. All over campus, small buckets hang waist-level from trees, signifying to the seminary community that the trees are both beautiful and useful. The Seminary Stewardship Alliance took the opportunity to interview the AMBS students who spearheaded this unique expression of campus creation care practices.

What process did you go through to begin tapping campus trees for maple syrup? Were any seminary faculty/staff members involved with the project?

Katerina Friesen: We really didn’t have any hoops to jump through at all. Everyone we asked was on board and very supportive. The idea began when I asked Janeen (Bertsche Johnson, SSA liaison) in her office one day last fall if we could tap Norway Maples, and she did a little research online to find out that it was possible. Then, we asked maintenance and they even gave us the tubing to use as connectors between the taps and the buckets, as well as a drill to borrow for the tapping. In terms of staff involvement, one of the librarians, Karl Stutzman, helped to boil down buckets of sap into syrup along with three other students and two campus volunteers, Adolfo and Betty.

Annika Krause: I think it is also worth noting that this was an experiment. As far as I know, this hasn’t been done on campus before. The intention was for this to be a test year and hopefully more people will be involved in the coming years.

About how much syrup did you harvest?

Katerina Friesen: Annika and I tapped one maple tree in early March to see how it would go, and because of the success, invited other students to join us to tap four more trees in late March. It’s hard to say how much syrup we got, since boiling was a community effort and volunteers kept some of the syrup they boiled. I would estimate that we ended up with about 2.5 gallons of syrup (which would have originally been conservatively 125 gallons of sap if the ratio was about 50:1).

Annika Krause: I would agree with how much sap we boiled down. Each 5 gallon bucket gave us 1-2 cups of syrup, depending on when in the season we boiled it. That means that at the beginning of the season we were at about an 80:1 ratio, and towards the end of the season we were at about a 40:1 ratio. I would say that 2.5 gallons of syrup made is an appropriate estimate.

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Annika Krause, AMBS student who initiated the syrup-making effort, told the seminary community that she was so excited about tapping the maple trees to make syrup that she bought the equipment months ago.

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The snow was still covering the campus when Katerina Friesen started taps on the Norway maple trees that line the lane into the campus.

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Syrup making became an opportunity for community, Katerina Friesen explained. She and Annika Krause started cooking down one batch of liquid and soon others joined them, including Gabe Pennington, AMBS student; Christa Pennington, an elementary school teacher; and children of Chaiya and Aranya Hadtasunsern. A total of 15 people were involved in some way in the season’s harvest and creation of syrup.

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Students and staff enjoy sampling the harvested syrup.

Photos by Mary Klassen