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Sebeka sugar shack teaches WDC third-graders sweet lesson

Barb Eigel explains to the third-grade students the process of taking the sap and boiling it in the sugar shack. The sap is processed by heating to evaporate much of the water, leaving the concentrated syrup. The sugar shack building is louvered at the top to vent the steam from the boiling sap.

Wadena-Deer Creek third-graders enjoyed a "sweet" experience touring Les Schwartz's sugar shack near Sebeka on Wednesday, April 23.

The 78 third-graders boarded two school buses and traveled to Schwartz's beautiful wooded acreage southeast of Sebeka where he is tapping 300 maple trees this spring. It was quite a sight to see the white 5-gallon buckets hanging from the tall trees.

Schwartz demonstrated how he uses a hand-held drill to bore a hole about 1 ½ inches into the tree and then inserts the tap. The sap is clear in color and tastes like sugar water. Schwartz said there's only about 2 percent sugar content in the sap.

Students were able to watch the fresh sap bubble and boil in a large stainless-steel tank as the boiling process caused the water to evaporate and a steady cloud of steam rose from the hot liquid. The sweet aroma of maple syrup filled everyone's nostrils inside the sugar shack -- and it was wonderful!

Students also learned it requires a lot of work to make maple syrup. Schwartz said it takes 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup! Over the Easter weekend, Schwartz and his family harvested 1,400 gallons of sap. Students also learned that sap runs before the leaves bud when the days are warm and the nights are cold.

"We enjoy having kids come out and see this. Kids don't get a chance to experience this," said Schwartz, who is in his fourth year of making maple syrup on his Sebeka property. Schwarz is also a regular participant in WDC's Farm-to-School program where he brings in his maple syrup at lunch for elementary students to sample.

Students tasted fresh maple syrup from Schwartz's sugar shack over vanilla ice cream in their classrooms Wednesday afternoon. The students loved the sweet treat, many asking for seconds. They liked the flavor much better than the store-bought syrup.

Special thanks to Les Schwartz for sharing his time and expertise with WDC third-graders. It, as it was an interesting excursion. The field trip was sponsored by WDC Community Education.