New Jersey school uses $1M grant to produce maple syrup

MONEY & BUSINESS: New Jersey school uses $1M grant to produce maple syrup



A university in New Jersey is spending a $1 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture on testing the feasibility of a maple syrup industry in the Garden State.

Stockton University is in its fourth year of producing syrup from the 300 acres of red maple trees surrounding the school, whose campus spans from Galloway to Atlantic City, NJ, better known for its casinos and seaside resorts.

The untapped maple trees Stockton is utilizing are common to southern New Jersey, but have only half as much sugar as the maples of Vermont, the nation’s maple syrup capital, according to Fortune.

Red maples like those in Stockton “are not highly sought-after because the sugar content is significantly lower, about 1% coming from a red maple versus about 2% for a sugar maple,” Ryan Hegarty, assistant director of Stockton’s Maple Project, told Fortune.

Hegarty added that typically, it takes about 40 gallons of sap from sugar maples of the Vermont variety to make one gallon of syrup, per Fortune.

Stockton University is in its fourth year of producing syrup from the 300 acres of red maple trees surrounding the school in an effort to test the feasibility of a maple syrup industry in southern New Jersey. AP

But for red maples, at least 600 gallons of sap is needed to make the sticky sweet brown stuff you put on your pancakes because more water needs to be removed in the process of making syrup, the outlet reported.

Stockton’s Maple Project team is accomplishing this “using modern technologies such as reverse osmosis, and vacuum assist pumps to implement an extensive sapping system on Stockton’s 1,600-acre main campus,” per a website dedicated to the project.

Stockton has asked local residents who have access to red maple trees at least 12 inches in diameter to reach out to the university if they’re willing to allow Maple Project members to tap the trees.

To make syrup from red maple trees, like those in Stockton, producers need at least 600 gallons of sap. AP
After sap is collected in buckets, it’s boiled down to make syrup. AP

The tapping process is simple, the Maple Project said: a hole is drilled into a tree high enough so that gravity will help the sap flow down. A tap is inserted into the tree, and a tube is run into a food-safe container to collect the sap, which is later boiled down to make syrup.

Because of that cooking process, Stockton’s syrup is darker and richer than commercially sold offerings, according to Fortune.

The university is already using the syrup from its Maple Project in its food service program, where fellow students have used it to create salad dressings and barbecue sauce.

“The ultimate goal of the grant is to encourage maple syrup production by home-hobbyists and commercial sellers in New Jersey and similar locations in the Mid-Atlantic,” said Aaron Stoler, lead investigator of the Maple Project and Stockton Assistant Professor of Environmental Science.

“To this end, research questions will specifically address issues of sap volume, syrup quality, ecological forest management, and return-on-investment.”

Because of that cooking process, Stockton’s syrup is darker and richer than commercially sold offerings. AP

Maple syrup production isn’t new to New Jersey — residents in the state have been making the sweet condiment ever since the state was populated with Native Americans, according to Fortune.

However, this mostly takes place in more northern areas of the Garden State — as the southern region tends to be warmer, affecting when and how sap flows — though no large-scale industry ever came to fruition.

“You need below-freezing nights, then you need above-freezing daytime temperatures” to ensure a good flow of sap, Hegarty told Fortune.

In Stockton, that sweet spot usually takes place beginning around the second week of January.

Stockton is already using the syrup from its Maple Project in its food service program, where fellow students have used it to create salad dressings and barbecue sauce. AP

Charlize Katzenbach, who has been making syrup for more than three decades at her Sweet Sourland Farms roughly 80 miles northwest of Stockton, in Hopewell, NJ, recalled it being hard to sell her product when she first started in the 1980s, per Fortune.

“No one would buy it,” Katzenbach, who advised Stockton on setting up its program, told the outlet. “They’d say, ‘I get my syrup from Vermont; this can’t be any good at all.’”

In 2022, New Jersey collectively produced 1,817 gallons of maple syrup — worth $88,000, Fortune reported, citing the state agriculture department.

For reference, Vermont produces half of the nearly 6 million gallons of maple syrup sole in the US each year — worth a total of $105 million, according to the agriculture department.



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