Sugaring in Somerville

Most of us in the local food / food justice movement are familiar with urban agriculture — and even with programs that glean fruit from trees, in cities where citrus and other tree fruits grow. But last month, we read about a twist on urban agriculture we hadn’t heard of before: urban maple sugaring! In Somerville, Massachusetts, non-profit Groundwork Somerville has been tapping trees in people’s yards and at Tufts University for ten years. We asked Lee Dwyer, the coordinator of the program, to tell us more.

Urban Maple Sugaring by Lee Dwyer, Gardens Coordinator, Groundwork Somerville

The word “maple” conjures up images of Vermont, brilliant fall foliage, and a warm, fresh stack of pancakes. It’s not something you usually associate with densely-packed neighborhoods, public school classrooms, urban youth and city-wide collaboration—unless you happen to live in Somerville, Massachusetts, just next to Boston. Here, community members have been tapping local sugar maples, collecting sap and boiling it down into syrup for the past ten years. The Somerville Maple Syrup Project brings a centuries-old New England tradition of maple sugaring to the city, engaging children, families, neighbors and volunteers in hands-on syrup production and education. It’s the first (and currently, only) urban maple sugaring operation in the world!

Local non-profit Groundwork Somerville coordinates the project, in partnership with the Somerville Community Growing Center (a communal gardening space), the Somerville Public Schools, libraries, local businesses and Tufts University. Staff and community members tap maple trees located on the Tufts campus in late January to early February, depending on the weather, and volunteers collect buckets of sap until the trees start to bud in early March. During the sugaring season, we host a series of maple-related events, from a fundraiser brunch to a tapping day to workshops in the second-grade classrooms. It all culminates in the Boil Down Festival, which features live music, tapping and boiling demos, and local food and drinks, and which draws as many as 800 attendees to the Growing Center in the heart of the city.

As a community-focused program, Somerville Maple Syrup Project fits into Groundwork Somerville’s mission of building a stronger and greener city. The organization also runs eight school gardens, provides environmental jobs and training to urban youth and promotes parks, food security and urban agriculture. The locally-produced syrup is sold at the Groundwork Somerville farmers’ market stands along with fresh produce from school gardens and South Street Farm–establishing a sweet new urban tradition!

Siena Chrisman