During the last week of March, physical education teacher Carla West shared facts about the maple syrup harvest in Vermont. On Friday, March 25th, there was a taste test session in each classroom. Teachers Kelsey Taddei and Kathy Gatto-Gurney lead the effort with support from Food Connects staff Jenny Kessler. They asked students to share what they had learned or already knew about maple syrup. Not surprisingly, there were many experts in the house! At least half of each class had either made maple syrup themselves or had visited a friend or family member who makes it. And it was clear that Ms. West’s teaching had stuck—many students in each class told us right away that it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make just 1 gallon of syrup!
Discussing that fact (and the related time and energy required to make real maple syrup) helped students understand why someone had the idea to make imitation syrup out of corn syrup. But could imitation syrup taste like the real thing? Pre-K through 5th-grade students did a blind taste test of Vermont maple syrup and imitation syrup made with corn syrup. They were asked to choose which syrup they preferred and guess which syrup was “from the tree.” (Thanks to Ms. West’s family for the generous donation of maple syrup!)
Not surprisingly, most Townshend students could tell right away which was the real thing. “This one tastes like chemicals,” said 4th grader Seamus Crockett. His classmate Stella Cleveland agreed. “This one tastes buttery and sweeter, and chemically. You can taste it in the aftertaste”. Daniel Sullivan knew it too, “This one tastes like butter. Butter taste comes from store-bought; it doesn’t come from a tree.”
These comments were echoed throughout the school. Students also looked at the ingredients in each product and discussed differences like distance traveled to the store and homes and the reasons for different price points of each syrup.
Students also tasted fresh sap that had been collected that morning. Most students were less familiar with the sap, and it helped them understand the 40:1 ratio a little more concretely.
Townshend Elementary was recently awarded a $750 Wellness Grant from the Windham County Community Advisory Board of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont. This generous grant will support these tastings through the purchase of ingredients and materials, as well as supporting a future garden at the school. The school will have a tasting event around whole grains on May 13th and mixed greens on May 27th. Both students and teachers are looking forward to monthly taste tests and more Farm to School events in the future.
Food Connects is an entrepreneurial non-profit that delivers locally produced food as well as educational and consulting services aimed at transforming local food systems. The Food Hub aggregates and delivers from over 150 regional farms and food producers to over 150 buyers in southeast Vermont, southwest New Hampshire, and western Massachusetts. Their educational services focus on Farm to School programming. Acknowledged as a statewide leader, the program supports over 30 schools to increase local food purchasing, school meal participation, and food, farm, and nutrition education. Together these core programs contribute to a vibrant local economy by increasing local food purchases by schools and improving students’ nutrition and academic performance. Food Connects is frequently hired to provide leadership and consulting services for efforts to support food systems initiatives throughout New England and act as a catalyst for change.