Under clear, crisp skies, a troupe of Paul Banks Elementary School students climbed up a little ways into the hills on East End Road for a sweet and educational treat. Students from Dina Marion’s first grade class were on their way to a tour of the grove that’s tapped by Bridge Creek Birch Syrup.
Owned and operated by Anna Meredith and Jake Beaudoin, the company is the only one on the Kenai Peninsula to offer birch syrup commercially. The dark, intense liquid differs in many ways from the traditional maple syrup, not the least of which is how it’s made.
Meredith explained to the gaggle of students gathered in the lower grove that it takes more than 100 gallons of birch sap to make a gallon of the syrup that’s great on ice cream and in coffee.
That’s about twice as many gallons of sap as it takes to produce the same amount of maple syrup.
But, it’s worth it. Meredith explained that birch syrup is rich in minerals and a healthier alternative to white sugar.
“It’s 99 percent water,” Meredith explained to the class. “And then it’s got all the good minerals and good bacteria, and the sugar. And all we’re trying to do is get everything off except the minerals and the sugar.”
Hanging all around the students as they listened were bags affixed to trees in the birch grove, in various states of fullness with the clear, liquid sap. The students got to taste both the sap straight from the trees and the final product to compare.
Dan Lush, a volunteer at the school whose granddaughter was on the trip, had a hand in pulling the visit together.
“Last fall I came back from Maine with maple leaves, and I talked to Ms. Marion’s class about it,” he said. “And they said, ‘can we go to Maine?’ They all wanted to go. And I said no, but they make birch syrup right here in Homer; maybe we could go see that.”
Meredith, who grew up on the East Coast making maple syrup with her family, has long been a proponent of connecting younger generations with older ones and has worked with youth in the past through the R.E.C. Room in Homer.
“We all know how it’s important to have kids in the woods and nature, so that’s number one,” she said of having the kids out to tour the grove. “And then also the connection between food — what we’re putting in our mouth and where it comes from.”
A notable difference in her production season this year, Meredith told the students and the adults who accompanied them, is that it began three weeks earlier than normal.
For more information about Bridge Creek Birch Syrup, email firstname.lastname@example.org.