HENDERSON — 'Tis the season to tap for maple syrup.
It's the time when the ground and trees are starting to thaw from the winter, but spring's warm temperatures haven't warmed everything up yet. For staff and board members at the Ney Nature Center, Saturday was the perfect day to start drawing maple sap from the center's stock of maple trees.
"We use it for both teaching and education, and as a volunteer opportunity," said Becky Pollack, executive director of the Ney Nature Center.
For the past three years, nature center staff have taught area volunteers, interested syrup enthusiasts and even visiting schoolchildren how to properly tap, produce and store maple syrup. At the same time, the nature center sells bottles of the syrup they produce, and even offer a lifetime-supply bottle people can refill for about $200.
As more than 20 people found out Saturday, syrup eaten straight from the tree is quite distinct, a lot more smooth and light, than store-bought syrup.
"You can really taste the difference," said Steve Gillea, who with his wife and grandchildren went to learn how to tap maple syrup Saturday morning. The Gilleas have maple trees on their property and had discussed potentially tapping them for syrup, but a news program on Saturday morning about the nature center prompted them to bring everyone down to learn a bit more about the process.
Other people were fascinated by how maple syrup is produced as well — from how best to tell when to tap a tree to figuring out how to catch the sap as it runs, to how best to melt sap when turning it into syrup.
"I think it's really good to find out where syrup comes from," said Maggie Madison, a freshman at Minnesota State University. "I love syrup."
That's a good lesson for younger adults and children who may have never been exposed to life on the farm, according to Mick McGuire, Ney Nature Center Board Member.
"It's gets them thinking about where their food comes from," he said.
It's also an interesting example of the way weather and climate change can affect agriculture: Since temperatures need to be above freezing during the day and below freezing at night to properly tap for maple sap, there's only a small window of time for people to get the ingredients necessary to make maple syrup.
Last year, McGuire counted three record-breaking hot days during the maple syrup production season, roughly from March 10 to April 10 in 2015. Nature center staff and volunteers debated trying to tap the trees during the last weekend of February, but temperatures were simply too high to collect much sap.
"It's a teaching moment, where we can talk about weather and climate and how it can affect us," Pollack said.
The nature center is more than happy to organize volunteers who want to try tapping for maple sap, according to Pollack. Anyone interested can contact the nature center at 507-248-3474, find the nature center on Facebook, or visiting neycenter.org.