Walking towards Dufferin Grove Park on a chilly Sunday in March I could smell camp fire smoke and hear the sounds of kids laughing and, of course, an accordion. Stepping in to the hub of activity the first thing I noticed was a huge iron pot sitting atop the camp fire. A volunteer from Not Far From the Tree was stirring what appeared to be a pot of water. As it turns out it was the beginnings of Maple Syrup tapped from Norway Maples right here in the city.
A helpful volunteered explained the process of getting maple syrup. First, a tree is tapped, though Not Far From the Tree is careful about the trees it taps as tapping can cause permanent damage to the tree. If the temperatures are right (cold at night but warm during the day) the tree will leak a watery sap. That is where the boiling comes in – to get 1 litre of syrup it requires 65-70 litres of sap from a Norway Maple. The result is a rich syrup that can not get more local than a fellow Torontonian’s back yard!
It’s interesting to note that Norway Maples are considered an ‘invasive species’ and a pest to other trees. Introduced in the 1700s the trees tend to crowd out native species and being shade tolerate can outgrow Sugar Maple and Red Oak. Originally from Europe the trees are now common place in Southern Ontario and part of many urban landscapes as they shade neighborhood streets. While it is considered a pest to some, for the purpose of getting Maple Syrup the tree’s resiliency makes it less sensitive to any damages and therefore an ideal urban tree to tap.
Tapping urban trees is just one of the many agricultural activities of the volunteer driven Not Far From the Tree. In collaboration with home owners Not Far From the Tree collected a massive 19, 695 pounds of fruit in 2010. That 2010 poundage is up from 3003 pounds collected in 2008. When the fruit is picked it is divided into thirds, one third for the volunteers, one third for the homeowner and one third goes towards a community organization. If you would like to volunteer with Not Far From the Tree this summer, hop into their website and sign up to volunteer to pick some delicious Toronto cherries, plums, apples and many other local treats.
Photo by Geirarne/ Geir Arne Brevik