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Maple-sugar farm one sweet trip

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See News-Sentinel photographer Ellie Bogue's photo-audio slide show on the maple sugar program. Click on the link at left above the story.

Farm, Goshen College partner to show kids how syrup is made

Monday, March 9, 2009 - 11:27 am

The recent morning is bone-chilling cold. Not the cold that makes your nostrils stick together when you inhale, but only a few degrees warmer, barely double digits.

Larry Yoder, whose family owns the Yoder maple syrup farm, is trying to thaw pipes in his wooden-slat sugar shack. It is an uninsulated wooden building that contains the evaporator, a large metal tank much like a rectangular open sink, where maple sap is boiled down into maple syrup. In just 15 minutes, he is expecting a group of 45 second-graders from Canterbury School.

Yoder's Sugar Bush, located on Chapman Road in northern Allen County, has been in operation as an educational experience for Fort Wayne-area schoolchildren since 1983. It has been in the Yoder family for five generations.

Every maple-sugar season — typically mid-February through March — the Merry Lea Environmental Center of Goshen College leases the land and provides an educational experience for area schools.

It is a win-win situation for Yoder, a retired faculty member of the Merry Lea Environmental Center staff. His family gets the lease payment from the college, volunteer help with the sugar bush operations and the profits from sale of the syrup. The college educates the children who come to see the process and earns money from the schools that take students to the program.

“The kids get a professional level of instruction, and the lessons relate to ecology, botany, history and anthropology,” Yoder says, a wide smile and twinkling eyes brightening his weathered face.

Yoder says teachers sign up as soon as the program is posted each year in September. The sap runs for only a short time, starting with a spike in the temperatures in the late winter months, so reservations are limited.

The students arrive, marching through the woods, a half-mile hike from the parking lot. Judging by the smiles and eager questions from the second-graders, it looks as if the trip is well worth the time on a cold day.