Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mikayla visits MSU Tollgate Farm

Mikayla's class field trip today was to the MSU Tollgate farm. Noah did this field trip with balmy (yet wet) weather a couple of years ago, but things couldn't have been more different this time around. The temps were no better than 15 degrees sans wind-chill with a healthy blanket of snow covering everything, but everyone at least initially seemed ready for the chilly and slippery conditions. Unfortunately our tractor wasn't.

Our group rode the first trip of the day on the wagon out to the "sugar shack". All of the kids and us parents were packed in so tight that most of the kids were sitting on the parents laps, while others were sitting on the floor. I overheard one of our guides say "I think this is the most people that we've ever pulled at once before." We started at the barn and made it about two-thirds of the way to the shack when we encountered a hill. You tell how big it was from the first picture below. It wasn't. But the tractor said "Nope" and spun its tires on the incline. Despite our guides' best attempts, it didn't budge (except backwards). Even after we all got out, it still wouldn't move. The comments from myself and a few other dads to help push fell on deaf ears. With our ride blocking the road, we had to turn around and walk back to the barn. By this point we'd been outside for at least 20 minutes or more and everyone was ready to warm up anyway.

Back at the "kitchen" area, we went to plan B. The students helped make popcorn for the sole purpose of eating it drizzled in pure maple syrup made right there at the farm! OK, so it wasn't the same as drinking warm samples of the still-cooking syrup that I did with Noah before, but it was still delicious.

When the popcorn was consumed and our extremities thawed, we headed out again to the sugar shack, discovering when we got outside that our ride wasn't yet ready for us. So we just kept walking. Just before we reached our destination, there was the tractor waiting to take a group back. We were so close earlier. The shack where they were reducing the Sugar Maple sap down to syrup was very steamy and humid, yet cold because they needed airflow to move the steam up and out of the building. It takes at least 40 gallons of sap just to make 1 gallon of syrup!

The final stop was a short walk into the forest to tap our own tree. The kids learned how to spot a sugar maple and took turns drilling and tapping the tree. It was, however, the final straw for Mikayla. She broke down in inconsolable tears complaining that her feet were cold. Fortunately we were about finished and headed back to the tractor for a ride back. It was at that point that I'd realized that over half of the group had already gone home! The ride back was faster than the walk and everything was better once we made it back to the car and Mikayla's socks stuffed with used-but-still-warm Hot Hands hand warmers.

I'm so proud of my little girl for braving the cold and holding out as long as she did. In all, we had a good time. Mikayla was disappointed that I didn't buy any fresh maple syrup, but she said she does look forward to having popcorn and maple syrup again sometime :-)

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