Sugar Crew is a team of 12 students who run the Maple Sugar operation at the Dartmouth Organic Farm. The crew spends Dartmouth’s spring break in the sugar bush tapping trees and boiling sap. They also travel through Vermont and New Hampshire to learn about the regional sugaring industry and its history.
Sugar crew student leaders Michelle Wang ‘21, Reyn Hutten ‘21 and Rachel Kent ‘21 worked with Dartmouth Organic Farm manager, Laura Braasch and Sustainability Fellow, Dalia Rodriguez, to develop learning objectives for the program.
“We built a lot on the work that had been done the year before us,” says Kent. “One thing last year’s captains, Dalia (Rodriguez ‘18) and Johnny (Sanchez ‘18), talked a lot about was centering an indigenous perspective on sugaring, given that sugaring was in this region long before settlers ever came. That’s a really important thing to keep in mind as we’re learning about the process.” To inform these discussions, the crew read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, who shares indigenous teachings and stories about maple sugaring. Crew members also met with Chief Nathan Pero of the Koasek Traditional Band of Sovereign Abenaki to learn about his experience sugaring. Chief Pero joined for a work day in the sugar bush and spent a day visiting with the crew while they boiled in the sugar shack.
Another focus of this year’s crew was on sustainability and climate change in regards to sugaring. Some key questions included: How is climate change affecting the industry? What changes to sugaring can we expect? What are ways that we can be more sustainable in our sugaring operation at Dartmouth? To answer some of these questions the crew visited a sustainable farm owned by Pete Antos-Ketcham in Starksboro Vermont. They learned about technologies and techniques to run a more sustainable sugaring operation. For example the team learned about reverse osmosis, a technique that takes out a significant portion of water from the sap before boiling. This makes for a less energy intensive boil. Back on campus, the crew began to build their own reverse osmosis machine.
According to Kent, one challenge the crew faced was a late season. “We didn’t have a boil throughout all of spring break which is abnormal. It makes it especially hard as Dartmouth students because it meant we were boiling, which is the most time intensive portion of the who process, once the term had already started.” This meant working long, odd hours, but the crew remained in good spirits. Hutten says it made for good team building. “We worked really well as a team and were able to facilitate shifts, which meant a lot of shuttling back and forth from campus. That just highlights that efficiency is not necessarily our goal. The goal is to create learning opportunities and build community.”
As part of their time spent in the sugar bush, the crew held multiple work days open to campus where volunteers could assist in dumping sap, and open houses in the sugar shack where visitors could learn about the boiling process. “I think people know about sugar crew,” says Kent. “People are always asking about where they can buy syrup, and want to come out to the sugar shack. It’s another way to get people interested in sustainability, and that’s fun to be a part of.”
Read more about the Sugar Crew in this article from The Dartmouth.