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Meet the urban maple sugarmakers in Burlington's Old North End

A photo of two pots of sap steaming on an outdoor stove with cement cinderblocks around it.
Jess Kaplinger
Community News Service
Earlier this spring, Tap O.N.E. boiled sap in Burlington's Callahan Park. The sap was harvested from trees in the Queen City.

On a warm Tuesday afternoon in Callahan Park in Burlington’s South End, friends and strangers alike cluster around a large metal bucket filled with sap.

As the sun sets and temperatures drop, over a dozen people crowd around the evaporator like it’s a campfire. It’s a shiny metallic rectangular tub hooked up to a propane tank. Cinder blocks surround it to keep in the heat.

They’re boiling sap to make maple syrup. It’s a familiar scene in early spring in Vermont. What they pour in is almost clear, but once they’re done boiling, it’ll be a richer amber color.

"This will be syrup in probably an hour," says Angus Doherty, one of the founders of the group organizing this urban sugaring event, Tap O.N.E. "So we just collect the sap from the trees, and then we have a big holding tank now that fits like 60 gallons in it, and we’ll just fill that up. And then every week — or even right now it feels like every couple days — we’ll boil the sap, just so it doesn’t go bad."

Sap boils in a silver rectangle surrounded by cinder blocks.
Jess Kaplinger
Community News Service
A friend's dad provided an evaporator for Tap ONE to use to make maple syrup.

This spring was Tap O.N.E.’s third year collecting sap in Vermont’s largest city. The group started in the winter of 2021 — pushed by the pandemic to seek ways to hang out with people outdoors where risk of the virus was lower.

"One of our friend’s dad had this evaporator for us to use, so we just borrowed it and started tapping trees and making syrup," Doherty says. "The first year we just boiled in our backyard, but recently we’ve been going out to the parks just to get more people involved."

Isabelle Dunkley, another co-founder of the group, says Tap O.N.E. is trying to make sugaring accessible to Vermonters in the Queen City.

"Most of us come from other parts of Vermont and noticed that urban sugaring is very possible in Burlington and could be a fun way to get people together," she says. "So our mission is to bring sugaring to places where people maybe typically don’t have access to them."

It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. The sap boiled today came from about 20 trees in Burlington. There was one tree tapped right there in Callahan Park, a few in people’s backyards, and a handful in the Lakeview Cemetery.

What this group will produce is just a drop in the bucket compared to Vermont as a state. Last year, Vermont produced 2.55 million gallons of maple syrup — the most in the country.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont harvested more maple syrup in 2022 than any other year in the state's modern history

This season, sap began running early. This January in Vermont was the warmest on record.

Mark Isselhardt, a maple specialist with the University of Vermont extension, says it’s too soon to know if the early start to the season will impact overall maple syrup production.

"The early boils are definitely the story of this year, so far anyway," he says. "How that all leads to people meeting their targets for production or not, we won’t know until really everything’s been added up."

Just in time with the setting sun, the maple syrup is finished boiling. Angus Doherty says this year has been successful.

"I think we’ve gotten more sap than we have the past two years, to the point where we can’t really keep up with it almost," he says. "Usually, we would just boil on the weekends, but not we’re boiling on a Tuesday night, it’s getting kind of crazy."

This story was produced in collaboration between Vermont Public and the Community News Service. The Community News Service is a student-powered partnership between the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program and community newspapers across Vermont.

Jess Kaplinger is a sophomore at the University of Vermont majoring in English.
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