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Tapping into sustainable lifestyle

Becky Vargo • Feb 22, 2017 at 12:00 PM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — David and Courtney Wolffis say they are always ready to learn something new, but this year’s project — making maple syrup — came on a little earlier than expected.

The New Era Christian School teachers and Grand Haven Township residents watched some videos online and David attended a class at the Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids to learn the art of sugaring.

They had some supplies, but “we just weren’t ready yet,” Courtney said. They thought they had another week or two before the weather became optimal for collecting sap from sugar maple trees.

A social media post a few days ago alerted the Wolffises to the fact that the sap was running, so they grabbed some gallon milk jugs, cut some holes, grabbed their spiles (taps) and headed to David’s brother’s property on Buchanan Street. They tapped four trees Sunday and David had to run to the store for more taps on Monday.

By the end of Monday, they had nine taps running on seven trees, and had collected about 4 gallons of sap.

The change in temperature causes the trees to send the sap from their roots out into the branches for growth, David said. You can tap a tree during that time without hurting it.

“It’s kind of like donating blood,” said David, who is also a Grand Haven Township firefighter and paramedic. “You can give a little blood and not hurt anyone. You can take some sap and not hurt the tree.”

Likewise, a child doesn’t donate blood, and you don’t tap a tree smaller than 10 inches in diameter, he said.

The Michigan Maple Syrup Association notes a tree should be at least 40 years old when it is ready to be tapped.

Courtney, a kindergarten teacher, is only in the classroom three days a week. The other two days she babysits, so she is able to check the taps and teach her young charges some skills along the way.

Tuesday morning, she added covers over the spiles, milk jugs and buckets to keep rain from getting in the sap.

The sap is about 2.5 percent sugar, she said. So you have to boil down about 35-40 gallons of sap to get a single gallon of syrup. You don’t want the rain to add to that boiling-down time.

The Wolffises plan to borrow an evaporating pan from a friend to help in that process.

“David has been splitting wood,” Courtney said. “It takes a lot of boiling.”

They are also considering using a propane burner, David said.

The young couple, married just this past summer, are not sure how much syrup they will produce. They won’t get a chance to boil it down until the weekend. But they say they want a lot of it.

“If you only knew how much maple syrup David eats every morning,” Courtney said.

That’s one of the reasons for making their own syrup — to help with their household budget.

“Over the past year or two, we’ve wanted to do it,” David said.

He also admitted the sugar maple is his favorite tree, and that he did reports on it in college.

The third aspect is that it fits in with their plan for healthier eating, sustainability and God’s creation.

“The main reason behind doing all of this (maple sugaring, organic gardening, etc.) is that we believe all of creation belongs to God,” Courtney explained. “Because He puts us in charge of it, we feel we should be utilizing what has been given to us by Him.”

They recently bought a house and plan to plant a large garden.

“We had a 12-by-20-foot garden last year,” David said. “We plan to double it.”

“It’s amazing what you can grow in a little amount of space,” Courtney added. “We are still eating off our summer produce.”

Courtney said they also canned, froze and dried food from their garden. They trade with friends and neighbors for milk and dairy products.

They both eat gluten-free, so Courtney makes everything they eat.

“You still have a sweet tooth,” Courtney said to her husband with a smile.

David said it’s a very simple process to collect and make maple syrup. The information is online and at the library.

The closest public maple syrup operations are at the DeGraaf Nature Center in Holland and the Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids.

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