TapONE Comes to Burlington

Burlington Just Got Sweeter

Tap ONE (Old North End) began as an idea around a campfire in the woods, a happy place for all of us. My friends and I had inherited a portable evaporator and a dozen sap buckets and spiles and we yearned to share the sugaring experience and all of the sweetness that comes with it with others. 

As Vermonters (native born or chosen), foresters, educators, and as children who grew up exploring the woods and treasuring its natural wonders and bounty, we share a deep appreciation for maple trees. Three of us, William, Isabel, and Ada Dunkley, have a family sugaring operation in Westford, VT and provided a lot of the needed know-how and experience. I had, with a lot of help from William, sugared with my students at Winooski Middle School last year and was blown away by both how well the experience aligned with our chemistry unit and how enjoyable and communal the process could be. With our mix of professional and recreational experience and a collective desire to experiment, we branded ourselves Tap ONE and started to plan. 

The nine of us reside in Burlington’s Old North End and have become more connected with the city over the years, but I think our hearts still belong in the woods. Because of this, the idea of bringing a distinctly rural and quintessentially Vermont tradition into the backyards and parks of our city was an exciting prospect. We could deepen our roots, and help other Burlington residents do so as well. 

After a year of social distancing and COVID-19 restrictions, our hope was to provide a safe way for Burlington residents to come together during a time where connections have been few and far between. And, wow, did the people of Burlington respond! Our flyers, Front Porch Forum and Reddit posts, and Tap ONE instagram were met with a stream of emails and messages from community members expressing excitement and asking how they could get involved and help. 

Our first mission was to tap 8 beautiful, huge sugar maples in the corner of Lakeview Cemetery, thanks to the suggestion and approval of Dan Cahill and the Burlington Parks Department. We were joined by several eager community members, some of whom had never tapped a tree before, as well as environmentalists and media people. From there, we handed out a few buckets and spiles every day. Everyone came to us with a different story. “I’m new to Vermont and I’ve always wanted to learn about sugaring!”  or “My family sugared when I was growing up, and I’ve always wanted to tap the big old sugar maple behind our house, but I’ve just never gotten around to it. Now, I have a reason!” or “I’ve lived in Vermont my whole life, but I’ve never tapped a tree.” 

Even those without tappable trees were eager to spend the afternoon chatting around the evaporator in our backyard, breathing in the sugary steam and making friends. In some cases, we could eagerly bestow sugaring knowledge upon our guests, describing (as best as we could) the pressure changes caused by cold nights and warm days that causes the sap to flow and the impressive 40:1 ratio of sap to syrup. Other times, we became the students and learned tips from other sugarers and scientists. We took a trip down to Rock Point School’s sugar shack and were impressed by Chuck’s beautiful operation down there, and helped by his donation of buckets and spiles just as our supply ran dry. We got a call from a community sugarer in North Philly who wanted to swap stories and talk maple. We received articles from ecologists and information on Abenaki sugaring traditions. We had questions about the sustainability of tapping and the potential damage to trees. We heard from schools, organizations, media, and neighbors down the street. We were amazed, humbled, learned a ton, and had a great time. 

The whole process, of about 3 weeks and 7 bountiful boils, was a communal learning experience. We were blown away by the curiosity and investment of our neighbors. Each day we were pleasantly surprised by the sap in our buckets and the emails in our inbox. We estimated that our yield was about 4 gallons of syrup, given out in mason, jam, and baby food jars and collected from our picnic table as our new friends returned their buckets and spiles. 

Now, as we’ve just put our buckets away in the basement, and handed out almost all of our syrup to Tap ONE helpers, neighbors, and friends, we have begun to look forward. We’ve been brainstorming summer projects, such as Old North End maple creemees, more opportunities for neighbors to come out of their houses and share food and fun. 

But our next priority is the trees.  They supplied us with sap for the past few weeks and now it is time to give back. We’ve been discussing reciprocity with other community members and ecologists. A healthy ring of leaf matter, native groundcover, and pollinator plants around the drip circle of trees would enrich the soil health and therefore the health of the tree. This “circle of life” would also contribute to the goal of re-wilding Burlington, bringing more native plants and insects into our city. In collaboration with the city, the Parks Department, ecologists, and caring residents, we are eager to support the trees who made this whole adventure possible.

Article by: Maeve Poleman and the Tap ONE Team – Ben Hallman, Max King, Wynne Poleman, Sage King, Angus Doherty, Ada Dunkley, Isabel Dunkley, and William Dunkley.

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