Tapping into Spring During a Time of Coronavirus

Tapping into Spring During a Time of Coronavirus

In the second week of March, when a friend of Jan Dawe’s heard that OneTree Alaska wouldn’t be able to move ahead with its usual springtime birch sap collection program, she cried: “Oh NO. Everyone needs birch sap.”

That feeling was reinforced by OneTree K-12 teachers, who reported they were struggling to transform classroom activities into distance-delivery lesson plans.

The OneTree Alaska spring program is more than just a syrup- and caramel-making event. The program includes a curriculum called “Tapping into Spring” taught in K-12 classrooms. It also welcomes the 50-60 participants in the Fairbanks Birch Sap Cooperative to the Lola Tilly Commons kitchen at the University of Alaska Fairbanks each day of the sap season. They deliver hundreds of gallons of icy, fresh birch sap.

Given how these personal interactions would be limited by COVID-19 social-distancing protocols, it became clear that OneTree Alaska needed to pivot. If people weren’t allowed to bring buckets of sap to the Tilly kitchen, OneTree needed to get buckets and gear to the people for processing sap at home.

Enter Gwen Holdmann and Alaska Center for Energy and Power. Through the program’s generous sponsorship, OneTree created and distributed 200 home birch-tapping kits.

The kits have gone to K-12 students and their families from Salcha to Nenana. Written instructions, included in the kit, cover choosing a good sap tree, best practices for setting a spile in a tree, storing sap and two methods for processing sap to syrup.

“It’s thanks to ACEP’s support that OneTree Alaska has been able to take a leap into the future,” says Dawe.

The program scaled up from working in individual K-12 classrooms to crowdsourcing a popular citizen-science project. Over 230 K-12 families and community members are collecting daily 

birch sap data with the home tapping kits. After the sap season is over, these data will be entered onto a Google Earth map.

“Many thanks to ACEP and Gwen for spearheading so much learning and fun — needed elements of hunkering down at home in an age of coronavirus,” added Dawe.

OneTree Alaska is sponsored in part by the Office of Naval Research.

To find out more about OneTree Alaska and the Birch Sap Cooperative, visit https://onetreealaska.weebly.com/ or email Jan Dawe at jan.dawe@alaska.edu.


Amie, James and Kenneth Verhagen of Nenana stand by one of their birch trees collecting sap in using tools supplied in in the "Tapping Into Spring" kit. Photo courtesy of Amie Verhagen.