Spring Break Camp Day #1: Maple Monday

We started off our first day of Spring Break Camp with Maple Monday! As maple tapping season is wrapping up, the timing was perfect to show campers how maple sugaring operations run at Tollgate. March is prime time for sap collection, with temperatures during the day rising above freezing and dropping below at night, and luckily this trend is continuing into early April this year. We have also had the highest yield of sap that Tollgate has ever seen!

We began the day with some fun icebreaker and team building games, as well as the flag ceremony and C.A.R.E.S. skits. Additionally, a morning at Tollgate would not be the same without animal chores, so each group got the opportunity to care for and bond with some of our beloved farm animals. As we proceeded with maple festivities, all four pepper groups got to partake in the four rotations of our maple program: tree identification and tapping a tree, modern day evaporation at the sugar shack, tools through time, and maple syrup tasting.

Campers learned how to identify a sugar maple tree, even without its distinguishable leaves, by looking at the bark and branches. They then ventured into the sugar bush forest to find a tree to tap, and measured the tree to make sure it was suitable for tapping. Using modern-day tools, they drilled into the tree, inserted a spile and tubing, and set a bucket for sap collection.

Campers also visited the Tollgate sugar shack which is where the magic of turning sap to syrup takes place! They witnessed the process of evaporation, where sap is boiled down to syrup. Sap begins being mostly water with 2% sugar content, and we boil off that water until the sugar content is at 67% – the perfect percentage for syrup taste and preservation. Campers were able to observe the water evaporating off as steam through the openings of the sugar shack roof. They also learned that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make just 1 gallon of syrup. Not an easy process!

We also had a chance to dive into the history of maple sugaring during a tools through time lesson. Campers got to interact with tools from Native American, Colonial, and Modern Day time periods. They uncovered the legends of how maple sugaring first originated in the Anishanaabe tribes, and got to see first-hand how the tools have evolved over time to make syrup production at a much larger scale, but really the fundamental process still remains the same and we have learned much from the people before us.

We were able to incorporate some maple syrup tasting into our morning garden kitchen today. Campers had sampled maple sap and maple sugar as well, and it was very interesting to differentiate between the three! We made popcorn in a stir popper to once again observe steam being produced as water particles inside the corn kernels changed state from liquid to gas, and out pops the starch inside the popcorn seed! Campers had the option to drizzle or dip when accompanying their popcorn with delicious Michigan maple syrup.

In the afternoon, campers visited the orchard to play a fun game called ‘Every Tree for Itself’ to learn about the needs of trees and how competition can play a role when it comes to obtaining the necessary resources to survive: water, sunlight, and nutrients. Campers also enjoyed a lively game of ‘where’s my chicken’, which involved teamwork, strategy, and lots of running!

In addition to all of these incredibly fun and educational Maple Monday experiences, we also kick-started our STEAM project for the week by doing a demonstration with glacial goo. Campers made the non-Newtonian fluid using a box of cornstarch, 1.5 cups of water, and a few drops food dye, and then placed it into various substrates on an erosion table to see how it flowed through the sediment. This visual gave campers an idea for how glaciers once moved through Michigan, and also helped them to understand how different soil types can have an affect on the process of erosion. They will incorporate their knowledge from today into their STEAM project of building erosion barriers in the forest over the course of this week.

The afternoon garden kitchen snack was a delicious one as well, and we of course had to include maple syrup. They were energy balls made with rolled oats, sunbutter, syrup, and chocolate chips. We also got to prepare tomorrow morning’s snack, which I’m sure campers are eager to sample during Tuesday’s garden kitchen.

It was a wonderful first day of camp and we are very excited to see campers back for the rest of this eventful and exciting week!

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