Vegetables aren’t the only things sourced from the Bowdoin Organic Garden.  This spring, maple syrup collected from the College’s maple trees will also be available.

Yesterday, Cawthon and garden members held a demonstration on the Dudley Coe Quad, offering samples of maple syrup similar to that which they will produce for the dining halls. The syrup they provided for tasting wasn’t from Bowdoin trees, but was from local sources. 

Students, professors and community members passing by the tent on the Coe Quad enjoyed tasting samples of the different types of syrup. The group offered a medium grade—which has a darker color,—and a lighter medium color, which is closer to Grade A maple syrup.

In addition to offering samples, the group boiled sap in a pot to show students how it begins to change in color. The process, however, takes several hours to complete.

The Organic Garden has been tapping maple trees for sap on campus for three years. Sara Cawthon, the manager of the Organic Garden, spearheaded this year’s effort. Though she began the process late in the season, installing the spiles in the last week of February, Cawthon has now tapped 16 trees behind Quinby House and in the surrounding area. 

To collect sap, Cawthon drills a small hole in each tree into which she secures a spile. Buckets hang from the spiles and sap runs out of the tree and into the bucket. Cawthon empties the buckets every other day. Some overflow with the sugary, transparent sap, while others only contain a few drops.

“It’s the easiest thing in the world. The only hard part is you really want to identify your maple trees in the summer because red maple and sugar maples look almost identical in the winter,” Cawthon said. 

The trees can be more easily identified in the winter based on their differing leaf shapes. 
Although both trees produce usable sap, sugar maples are much more prolific in their sap production. 

“Bowdoin has mostly sugar maples and only a few red maples. But I’d love to go by the athletic fields and see if we have more,” Cawthon said.

Additionally, for every 40 gallons of sap collected only one gallon of maple syrup is produced, or about two percent of the raw material. The sap must be filtered several times and then boiled to create the final product.

The Organic Garden has supplied dining halls with food before. Last year, Cawthon estimated the group grew $34,000 in produce. 

“Most of our food goes to Dining,” said Peter Rosencrans ’14, who interned at the Organic Garden last summer. “We tell them what we have each harvest and they tell us what they want. Whatever they don’t have a use for on a particular week, we give to the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Society.”

“We produce about 30 different crops, but we try to focus on things for the salad bar like lettuce and arugula,” said Cawthon.

The organization also receives funding from both Dining Services and Student Activities to help it with farming. 

“Dining is super supportive of the garden,” Cawthon said. 

Both Cawthon and Rosencrans said they hope to acquire more land that is accessible to students. Currently, the Organic Garden owns plots at Crystal Springs Farm on Pleasant Hill Road and two smaller plots on the corner of Coffin and South streets.

“Our problem is we’re off campus,” said Cawthon. “I got emailed by 100 students last year, but maybe ten students make it out regularly because of the bike ride or class schedule. I would love for the garden to be even closer to campus, because if you could walk there would be more participation.”

Most of the extensive farm work happens two and a half miles away at Crystal Springs Farm. Rosencrans, however, is hopeful that the Organic Garden will be able to acquire more land in the future. 

“We’re in the process of potentially getting more space off of Harpswell Road,” said Rosencrans.

“There’s a bunch of land behind the future dorms that they’re considering giving to the garden. We’re definitely looking for more space.”

Cawthon said she hopes to reorganize and re-structure the garden in addition to expand it.
Students who missed Thursday’s demonstration and tasting will have the chance to enjoy maple syrup produced by the Bowdoin Organic Garden at Thorne’s local food dinner on Wednesday, April 3.