Campus Life

Maple project awarded $900,000 in grants

Cold winters may be the worst time of year for some, but an opportune occasion to collect sap from red maple trees is catching the interest of those with a passion for nature. Close to a million dollars have been used to fund a team of professionals who are making an impact in the Stockton Community. This group of individuals, for the first time ever, has opened the sap sugaring process to the public.

First, the trees are tapped to collect sap in production hubs. Since about 98% of the clear fluid is water, there needs to be an evaporation process. With that being said, it takes about 500 gallons of this mixture to get a $10,000 evaporator up and running, and 4 days later a gallon of syrup is produced. From there, through chemical processing, a brown substance of syrup is produced and the team can expect a 40:1 ratio of water to syrup. A time-consuming and expensive process, yet the sweet and rich product of maple syrup beats the consumer-based product you can find at the store.

Researchers demonstrate sap sugaring. Photo courtesy of Rachel Rolle.

Judith Vogel, a lead on the project, stated the grant allows for “studied production research, so we’re actually looking at the trees, looking at the ecology of the forest, and getting data about how this impacts it, and then also outreach, so getting into the schools…the money into all of it… goes out into the community, getting supplies [tree tapping tools] into the people’s hands for free.”

Ryan Hegarty, the maple project’s research assistant, tapped into over 400 trees and is fascinated with the red maple’s ability to flourish. Hegarty stated, “red maple is also called the swamp maple… They love these really wet areas and they’re able to survive in wet conditions as supposed to dry conditions. But, they also just out-compete everything… in wetlands like this they have really long, lateral roots and short tap roots. Then, in really dry spots they have deep tap roots and the lateral roots would be kinda shorter. Because of that adaptability, they can just out-compete cedars and other native species that we have in South Jersey.”

Additional team members that worked to make this project possible include: Dr. Mariam Majd, a Professor of Economics who investigates the cost of Maple production; Matt Olsen, an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science who specializes in the identification of tree species; and Debra Summers, who works to educate local elementary to high school students about the tree-tapping efforts in the Stockton area.

So what does the future hold in terms of this process? According to Vogel, “Our hope is, once the grant is finished, which is in about three years, that we will be able to keep the product going because all the infrastructure will be here, and it will be in a matter of the supplies… so what we hope by selling our syrup is maybe getting some small funding sources… so what we really need is one higher. We need one person who’s responsible for running the evaporator because you see everything they do, it’s a lot to ask of a volunteer. That’s what the grant will need going forward. The amount to support one person during sugaring season. So we are really hopeful that it is something that we can sustain forever. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s just… a way of making Stockton really special in the South Jersey area.”

To keep up with the progress of maple tree tapping, please check out