The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 26, 2010


Sugaring season gets underway at Towle Field

Barb St. Onge (on right) and local expert George Bishop lend a hand during the maple tapping demonstration held at Towle Field on February 20. (Photo by Beth Clarke)

Sap buckets on the Sugar Maples at Towle Field are a sure sign that spring is approaching – and a testament to Carlisle’s participation in a New England tradition. The trees are being tapped by Gaining Ground, a Concord-based non-profit hunger relief organization that has maintained a maple sugaring operation for about ten years.

Gaining Ground

Farm Coordinator Verena Wieloch explained Gaining Ground’s mission, operations and sugaring program when she met with the Conservation Commission (ConsCom) on February 11 and was granted an agricultural license for this season. The information that follows is based on that discussion and the organization’s web site at

With the help of hundreds of volunteers the 15-year-old group grows about 20,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables annually. All of this fresh produce is donated within 24 hours of harvest to area food pantries and meal programs - such as the Westford Council on Aging, Open Table Concord and the Acton Food Pantry.

Since 1999 Gaining Ground’s main farm has been located on nine acres at the Henry David Thoreau Birthplace on Virginia Road in Concord. This is one of the oldest operating farms in the country – having been in continuous cultivation since 1635. All of their produce is consumed within 20 miles of the farm.

The organization also maintains a reproduction kitchen garden at the Old Manse in Concord. This is modeled after the vegetable garden that Thoreau planted there in 1842 as a present for Nathaniel Hawthorne and his bride.

Along with its mission of providing hunger relief, Gaining Ground also enables volunteers to learn about farming and food production through hands-on participation. Last year the organization published a cookbook, The Gaining Ground Table, intended in part to encourage broader use of locally grown foods. Along with fruits and vegetables there are also recipes with meat, fish and dairy products – many intended to appeal to children (see “Gaining Ground book inspires cooks to use local produce,” Mosquito, October 9 2009.)

Maple sugar project

Working with tree owners on public and private land in Concord and Lincoln, and now Carlisle, Gaining Ground taps more than 150 trees. They insert 5/16” or 7/16” hollow spikes, called spiles, in the trunks and collect the sap in covered metal buckets. Each is labeled with an explanation of the sap-to-syrup process.

Carefully tapped trees can be part of a sugaring operation for many decades. Thus, even on larger trees they limit sap removal to one spile and bucket.

About ten trees are being tapped at Towle Field, most along Westford Road. The buckets are emptied daily to every few days depending on sap flow. Thanks to cold nights and above freezing daytime temperatures the maple sap is running well this week. The taps will be removed in mid-March when the sap run ends.

In 2009 Gaining Ground obtained funding to build a sugar house at the main farm. This season they welcome schoolchildren and adults to schedule visits to help with sap collection and with sap boiling at the sugar house. The public is welcome to drop by on Tuesdays and Saturdays after 2 pm. A maple sugaring daily update and information on volunteering are provided on the web site.

Maple syrup is produced at more than 100 sugar houses in the Commonwealth. The Massachusetts Maple Producers Association web site ( has information on those open to the public. ∆

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito