MANSFIELD, Ohio—Still pondering which gift to give to that hard-to-shop-for friend? Are you a Buckeyes fan looking for a unique item to add to your collection? Or, maybe you’re someone who wants pure, fresh maple syrup to go with your breakfast tomorrow morning?
If so, The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) may just have the perfect thing for you—Ohio State Maple Syrup.
It comes from The Ohio State University at Mansfield, where students and faculty with CFAES’ School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) run a nearly 20-acre sugarbush. A sugarbush is a maple tree forest used to produce maple syrup.
Now in its fifth year of production, the official Ohio State-branded syrup sales proceeds support CFAES student internships, scholarships, and research projects at the Mansfield campus EcoLab, of which the sugarbush is a part, said one of the project’s co-leaders, Kathy Smith, director of the Ohio Woodland Stewards program.
Available in quart ($24), pint ($16), and half-pint ($12) sizes, the syrup can be ordered online at woodlandstewards.osu.edu/maple/maple-syrup-orders, and orders can be shipped or picked up at your convenience.
But if you want to get the syrup, you need to hurry because it’s in limited quantity this year (there are only a few quarts left) thanks to the record hot temperatures experienced during the maple syrup season, which in Ohio, typically runs from January to March, Smith said.
Each year, the Maple Syrup team—which is made up of SENR faculty, staff, and student interns—typically harvests about 200 gallons of syrup from the Mansfield sugarbush, she said. This year, the team harvested only 123 gallons.
“This year, we had 70-degree days in February, which shortened the maple syrup season, as super warm days aren’t conducive to good sap flows,” Smith said. “Temperatures dictate sap flow. The ideal is for nighttime temps in the 20s and daytime temps in the 40s. When the thermometer goes above 32 degrees Fahrenheit, pressure in the tree makes the sap flow.
“During the season, we watch the weather and have to be ready to tap as soon as conditions are ready.”
The maple project began as a capstone project, authored by CFAES forestry, fisheries, and wildlife students back in 2018. During a condensed “Maymester” course, the students proposed that the woodlands on the Mansfield campus would make a great sugarbush.
“Students calculated the number of taps they thought the woods would sustain, we then had some maple producers come in, and they agreed that the location would be great for tapping,” Smith said. “So, what began as a research and teaching class, led to the production and sales of the maple syrup. Proceeds from the sales also fund maintenance and upkeep of the sugarbush.”
The project will soon become a full semester SENR course in 2025, Smith said. Students will learn everything about maple syrup production, including learning what trees to tap, how to run a sugarbush, how to collect sap, and how to produce the syrup including using an evaporator and a reverse osmosis machine.
Student will also learn about sustainability of maple production, said Gabe Karns, SENR visiting assistant professor and the maple syrup project’s other co-leader.
“Sustainability is a big word that academics use often, but the gravity of what it means at the boots-on-the-ground level is not always clear,” Karns said. “Maple sugaring, done properly, is as sustainable a practice as exists anywhere on the landscape, and we are excited to bring maple under the new university general education course offerings portfolio through the Sustainability Theme lens.”
But that’s not all the CFAES maple syrup program does.
The team also works with maple syrup producers statewide, providing research and information on best practices in maple syrup production and woodland management. The team offers workshops and boot camps that teach how to assess a sugarbush and all the steps that follow, from collecting sap to boiling, bottling, and selling.
That includes working with producers to teach which trees to tap; how to install a tap; how many taps to have; how and when sap flows; how to collect sap; how to store and filter sap; how to make value-added products such as maple cream, maple candy, and granulated maple sugar; and also how to market what they make.
“We want to help producers be better stewards of their woodland while producing an annual income opportunity,” Smith said.
And for those folks who have maple trees on their property and want to learn how to tap them, the maple team has programing for you, too.
A Backyard Maple Production workshop will be held Jan. 29, 2024, from 6:30–9 p.m. at the Event Center on the Warren County Fairgrounds, 665 N. Broadway St., in Lebanon, Ohio. The workshop will feature information on what, when, and how to tap a maple tree, how to handle sap, how to boil sap, and how to finish and package the resulting syrup. The class fee is $20 and includes materials and snacks for the evening.
The deadline to register for the workshop is Jan. 24, 2024. Register online at woodlandstewards.osu.edu. For more information on the maple syrup program, view the CFAES maple blog at u.osu.edu/ohiomaple.