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Liquid gold behind the scenes

March 27, 2015
By BIANCA BRAMAN - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

PAUL SMITHS - In 1948, Paul Smith's College began producing maple syrup for purpose of education.

After its first class matriculated in 1946, professors quickly realized the importance for education in this field. While tapping a sugar maple tree may seem easy, and boiling sap on the stove is a skill parents often teach children, the science behind syrup as a business is one that requires lengthy education. The basics though, accompanied by a tour of the college's facility, are being provided during the Adirondack Maple Weekends.

Chuck St. John, the Paul Smith's sugar bush manager, assists Mike Farrell in this hands-on teaching laboratory. The facility is a 2,900-tap sugar bush, with the eventual potential of having 10,000 taps installed. Last year was the best production thus far. The students produced 1,000 gallons of maple syrup. With 232 acres maple trees, the students are itching to increase production and provide the Adirondacks with even more liquid maple gold.

Article Photos

Chuck St. John at the sugar house
(Photo — Bianca Braman)

The students use a vacuum system - as opposed to previous uses of gravity - which is faster and more efficient for extracting the tree's sap. From there, it is sent through miles of plastic tubing to the extractor, which requires no electricity and allows the maple sap to be released into the storage tank.

The storage tank holds sap for times when there is ample flow to keep it bacteria-free pre-processing. From there, it is transported to the evaporator where the syrup is produced.

How much sap does it take to make one gallon of syrup?

"The rule of thumb ratio that 40 gallons of sap to every gallon of syrup is not necessarily true," St. John said. "It can be anywhere from 30 to 45 depending on the quality of the sap."

After the syrup is produced and bottled, it is sold and used in the school's cafeteria.

But the college is also experimenting with maple sap distribution as well.

"Paul Smith's College is going to serve fresh maple sap as a springtime drink in our cafeteria, and I have to believe we are the only college to do so," St. John said.

St. John is originally from Oswego and moved to Paul Smiths in the 1970s to study forest tech, after which he became the assistant land manager for four years. Living in Lake Placid now, he is not only the manager of the sugar bush but also assists Mike Farrell at the Uihlein Sugar Maple Research & Extension Field Station on Bear Cub Lane.

With the new grading system adopted by New York and Vermont, St. John personally prefers what is now called "Very Dark - Grade A".

"My favorite drink is seltzer, maple syrup, and black cherry juice, but it goes in the coffee too."

The syrup is sold in the campus bookstore. Paul Smith's College and the VIC are offering maple events on March 28 and 29, with tours of the sugar bush and sugar house, tastes of maple confections and baked goods, maple sugaring education and more.

For more information, visit online at or call 518-327-6241.

On April 18, Paul Smith's College will work in conjunction with culinary and natural resource management and ecology students to provide a pancake breakfast with their fresh maple yields. This will be held at the sugar bush on White Pine Camp Road from 9 to 11 a.m., and they will be accepting donations of $5.



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