MEXICO — Between rain showers Friday afternoon, 45 children from Meroby Elementary School took a field trip to Ray and Ann Carver’s Swift River Maple syrup farm at 275 Swift River Road.

They came to learn how the Carvers tap 350 maple trees and boil down the sap into different grades of maple syrup.

The children, teachers Heidi Steele and Shelly Dupuis, and chaperons split up into smaller groups and rotated through three stations in nearly two hours.

Some went with the Carvers’ helper, sap farmer Keith Bickford of Rumford, to watch him demonstrate how to tap a tree and secure tubing to the tap, enabling sap to flow into a pail. Others joined Ray Carver inside the evaporator house to learn how sap is boiled into maple syrup.

The third station was inside the Swift River Maple store, where children could buy syrup in jugs with money from their parents and/or sample it on ice cream.

Ann Carver said she and her husband started teaching their sugaring business to area schoolchildren when their son Wyatt Carver, now 11, was in Steele’s class. The teacher had asked them if the schoolchildren could take a field trip to their sugar shack and the Carvers were happy to help educate the youngsters.

“It’s fun,” Ann Carver said. “This is our third year doing this and this is a lot of fun. We used to have three classes come out here, but due to budget cuts we only have two classes now.”

She said that once temperatures reached seasonal levels this spring and nighttime temperatures remained in the low 20s, sap flows increased. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup.

“We collected 500 gallons yesterday in one day,” she said. “That’s two days worth of sap.”

Ray Carver told children he would have to spend all day Saturday and Sunday boiling that down into syrup. “We have 500 gallons to boil and the sap from the trees will still be running.”

After he stoked the stove with some wood, boiling sap released more sweet-smelling but sticky steam toward the roof opening that one boy initially thought was a sun roof.

Carver explained how the sap flows through tubing to holding tanks at the sugar shack. He also taught them how the evaporator works and where they check the syrup with a hydrometer to learn its sugar content.

Carver also showed them how they filter the syrup before it is placed in another holding tank before being bottled in plastic syrup jugs.

“We’re learning how they do it,” teacher Dupuis said to the children. “Ain’t it cool?”

Several answered yes and bobbed their heads up and down.

At one point, Wyatt Carver took over while his father fielded questions from the children’s bus driver. Wyatt has been making maple syrup with his parents since he was 3 to 4 years old, his mother said.

“He enjoys teaching them,” Ann Carver said.

The group moved on to the store for ice cream and syrup as another group arrived at the evaporator shack. For some children, it was their first time tasting Maine maple syrup.

“Some kids never have that opportunity, so it’s nice to share that tradition with them and at least let other kids experience it,” Ann Carver said.

Students Lyndsay Labrecque and Jared Lapointe said they hadn’t tasted it before. Labrecque said she never had syrup on pancakes or waffles.

She said she learned how sap comes out of trees “and I can see what it looks like.”

“I learned you can put syrup on ice cream,” Lapointe said.

Fellow student Jackson Rajaniemi said he “learned how maple syrup goes through a big tube and gets put into a big pot and turns into maple syrup.”

Student Julien Byam said he already knew all about the sap-tapping business, because he makes maple syrup with his father, Ben Byam of Rumford. But he did learn something.

“Like they have to filter it twice with one little machine, and then they have to filter it with another machine, and then it comes out as real maple syrup,” he said. “It tastes really good.”

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