Location: Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus in Gibsonia

Featured guests: Laura Livingston, director of sustainable agriculture and assistant professor of food studies, and Indira Alcantara, farm manager

3 things that surprised me:

1. Maple syrup season runs from mid-February to late March here in Western Pennsylvania. Indira’s first step for making syrup is tapping all the maple trees around campus, which can each produce somewhere between 2 to 5 gallons of sap each day. The next step is pouring the sap into a wood-fired evaporator. The fresh maple sap has a sugar content of around 2% and Indira explained that they boil the sap — which takes multiple weeks — until it has a sugar content of 67%. By late March, it’s ready to be poured onto pancakes. Last year, they collected 600 gallons of sap, which was transformed into just 15 gallons of maple syrup.

2. Indira and her team have to make sure that the hoses coming out of the trees aren’t submerged below the sap level in the collecting jugs, otherwise the tree can actually suck the sap back in overnight.

3. Thanks to their poly-tunnel, which is heated with solar panels, the students at Chatham are able to grow vegetables all winter long. Laura pointed out chard, spinach and peas growing happily despite the nearly freezing temperatures outside when we filmed in mid-February.

One thing that didn’t make the final cut: After tasting the maple sap, I commented that it seemed like a good thing to drink after running. Indira mentioned that she’s heard of some folks thinking about marketing maple sap as a Gatorade alternative. I’d definitely buy it! Or maybe I should just plant a few sugar maples in my yard.

Additional info: You can read more about the Eden Hall campus at Chatham’s website.

Want more Yinzer Backstage Pass? Check out our visit to Rodef Shalom Congregation and learn more about this historic Shadyside synagogue.