Get thee to the sugar house

If you’re a New Englander worthy of the name, you know that maple syrup is one of the best known products of our region.  Perhaps less so these days in Massachusetts, where farms are often bought up and replaced by housing developments named after the farm they decimated.  But there are still farms in our area tapping maple trees for sap to turn into various maple products.

Sugar shed

The Warren Farm in North Brookfield is still making syrup, sugar & candies from their sap, and March is usually the most active time for sap gathering/boiling.  If you haven’t visited a farm/sugar house since your childhood, you need to see what has changed in sap-gathering and syrup-making.

Dale and Janice Wentworth are hosting tours of their operation every Saturday and Sunday this month at 2:00 p.m.  This isn’t the quick trip to a sugar house to see sap boiling.  Janice Wentworth used to be a teacher and will treat you to a 1.5-hour presentation featuring a history of maple-tapping and a tour of their facilities.  Janice will tell you about the earliest known accounts/methods of sap gathering by Native Americans, then into the colonial period.  As she takes you through history, you’ll learn about the changing methods used down the ages, and eventually to 20th and 21st century technologies.

Bucket sled


Folks on the tour will be offered a small paper cup with fresh sap to taste.  It is primarily water, with just a tiny amount of maple sugar in it.  This is what is gathered from trees and boiled until most of the water is gone.

The presentation is held in a greenhouse behind the farm stand & gift shop building, so even on a chilly day, you’ll be pretty warm while learning about maple.

Janice will then take the visitors to see how modern sap gathering happens.  Gone are the buckets hanging from trees, though there are a couple available to show how things used to be done.


In their place is an advanced network of vacuum tubes that draw sap from trees and bring it directly to a holding tank in readiness for its visit to the evaporator.


Janice will then take you to the sugar house where all the magic happens.


If you haven’t already met Dale Wentworth by this point, you’ll probably find him minding the evaporator, a stainless steel marvel that is kept heated by countess cords of wood stacked nearby.  The evaporator is run with great precision, and the boiling point of water is even monitored regularly by referencing the barometric pressure, with the evaporator adjusted accordingly.


Janice Wentworth and the evaporator


Dale may even show you the smaller evaporator where he’s been making syrup from birch sap.

The tour ends back in the greenhouse, where visitors are offered samples of four different grades of syrup to taste.  You may find a new favorite!

The tour costs $5 per person, and for that you get an hour and a half of fascinating information about maple sugaring and its history, free samples of sap & syrup, and a maple recipe booklet.  After the syrup sampling, visitors go down to the gift shop to pay for their tour, and many decide to purchase some maple products before leaving.

There’s limited seating in the greenhouse, so call ahead before you leave to make sure there will be room for you: 508-867-0174.  Tours are at 2:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays this month.  This tour attracts foreign tourists as well, so you may meet someone from abroad who set aside an afternoon on their trip to learn about this unique aspect of New England.

When you arrive, someone will meet you at the road to see if you’re on the list of folks who called, and then help find you a spot to park so that all visitors can be accommodated at the end of this small road.

Warren Farm is located at 31 Warren St. in North Brookfield.  It’s a pleasant & scenic half-hour drive from the Worcester area.  Wear weather-appropriate clothing, and mud-resistant shoes — at this time of year, even if it hasn’t been raining, the melting snow may create some mud between the greenhouse and sugar house, or in the woods.

(Once you know where the Warren Farm is, be sure to stop back in the warmer months when their farm stand is selling fresh produce!)


Sleight of hand

If you’re on Facebook, please LIKE the Save the Chandler Magnet Ball Fields page and write to the School Committee, City Council, and City Manager to stop this now.

We are now approaching Phase Six of the Typical Worcester Scheme that the Chandler Magnet Field situation is turning into.

Phase One: Worcester State University and the neighbors hold meetings together in a neighborhood council.

Phase Two: WSU has secret negotiations with the city administration for a year regarding land that the administration has no control over.

Phase Three: The administration presents the plan to various non-quorum groups in a secretive way that will not violate the Open Meeting Law.

Phase Four: Neighbors and other concerned parties find out, inform public.

Phase Five: Administration scrambles, says that the neighbors don’t have all the facts and that the full proposal will be presented in a few weeks’ time. Frequently uses phrases like “not being too hasty”, which is Worcester-speak for “and we would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”

Phase Six, where we’re at right now, is the part where the administration is faced with opposition, and their approach will be to divide and conquer, to blame those who are not responsible for the problem, to divert from other solutions, and to present selling 15 acres of open space as the ONLY solution.

To wit:
The City Manager will blame the School Committee for Worcester State University expanding without having appropriate parking facilities. This isn’t the School Committee’s problem, and it’s not theirs to fix.

He will also try to solve unrelated issues and blame the School Committee. Gates Lane School has some attendant parking issues. However, the City Council, not the School Committee, is the final arbiter of schools that are built. Not the SC’s problem, and it’s unclear where he will find additional parking — perhaps take the nearby laundromat by eminent domain?

Despite what Worcester Mag (as mouthpiece for the City Manager) asserts, residents do NOT “need to pitch a better plan.” It’s not their fault if WSU can’t handle their parking problems, so it’s not up to the victim (citizens) to come up with solutions for a neighbor that has been working behind their back, against them.

We shouldn’t act as if putting a 700-800 (!!!) car parking lot in a residential area is no big deal. (To put this in perspective, that is 2.5 times the size of the McGrath Lot next to the library.)

Mr. Augustus has said that “If this doesn’t happen, I don’t know what the solution is.”  I’m sure the trustees of Worcester State are grateful that they’re getting his brain at no cost, but the rest of us would appreciate it if he worked for us for a change and let Worcester State put its own great minds to work at solving its problems.

Mr. Augustus would like us to think that we can take away 15 acres with a magic wand and be happy with the same patches of land we have now, 15 acres the poorer, except with artificial turf on two of them.   He also thinks this parcel is only worth $1 million.  These two propositions alone strain credulity.

For the next couple of weeks, we will see the city administration try very hard to divide those who would like to preserve the land by buying some off with perqs elsewhere, and to blame the holdouts for blocking the “progress” and “only solution.”

Now, for the Finale, watch the Administration perform the Dance of the Desperate while citizens grow angrier and angrier.  There will be highs and lows, dips and twirls, but don’t be distracted by the flashy moves.  They don’t have your best interests at heart.

Once the land’s gone, it’s gone.  Once it’s paved over, it’s not available for folks to hike and play, and for animals to live.  No amount of fake turf or parking spaces can bring it back.

Paving paradise, Chandler Edition

In a move that should come as no surprise to anyone who’s lived in this city longer than a year, the city administration would like the School Committee to declare land adjacent to Chandler Magnet School (15 acres of ball fields and woods) to be surplus.

Once the land is declared surplus, it would become a Worcester State parking lot.  There would also be parking available for those who work at Chandler Magnet & May Street School, and a playground.

Tracy has posted a summary of the proposal on her blog.

There is a group that is organizing opposition to this proposal — Save The Chandler Magnet Ball Fields.  Please follow that site; I’ll post updates as I hear them.

Once we lose open space, we don’t get it back.

When was the last time the city decided to “take back” a parking lot to turn into a wooded area, or to “reclaim” a subdevelopment as park land?

We are blessed to live in a city that has a lot of green space, and we need to think carefully before parting with any of it.

Please contact the School Committee and let them know what a bad idea this is.

This is in beautiful District 5, so you may also want to contact Councilor Gary Rosen.

Earth Day Cleanups 2015

The Regional Environmental Council will once again be coordinating Earth Day Cleanups on Saturday, April 18, from 8:00am-noon.

If you are interested in volunteering, please fill out the Volunteer Application.

If you are interested in becoming a site coordinator, please call Hanh at the REC at 508-799-9139 or email

As longtime readers know, this will be my eighth (!!!) year coordinating the God’s Acre/Swan Avenue site for Earth Day cleanups.  (It will also be our third year holding cleanups on Sherer Trail.)

I haven’t posted pictures of our cleanups for a few years, because it’s not as impressive (trash-wise) as once it was.

It was always our goal to have the cleanups get to a point where just a few folks can maintain the site a few times a year, and that’s where we’re at right now. Through the help of the REC, GWLT, dozens of volunteers, and Superior Waste & Recycling, we have turned this area from one of the more notorious dumping grounds in the city to a mostly clean area that hikers can enjoy.

Thanks to everyone who got us to this point!

Consider Becoming a Site Coordinator

I’d also like to encourage folks to consider becoming a site coordinator.

Four years ago, I wrote a short guide to beginning cleanups in your neighborhood, and I’ve listed some additional tips here and here.  If this sounds like something you’d like to do, call or email the REC.  If you have questions about how the process works, comment on this post or send me an email.

As always, I appreciate the work of the REC, the city, and others in organizing these cleanups, and the enormous effort volunteers put into cleaning up sites all around the city.