Galloway fifth-grader shuns Vermont, taps own maple syrup

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Steven Cramer peeks out from one of the air plants that cover his cardboard playhouse. Steven Cramer peeks out from one of the air plants that cover his cardboard playhouse.  

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - What do you want to be when you grow up if you’re a botanist at age 10?

“I’m already a botanist, so maybe a farmer,” replied Steven Cramer, a fifth-grader at Arthur Rann Elementary School.

Cramer loves plants. They are in nooks and crannies all over his house. Air plants cover a cardboard playhouse. An étagère is filled with rocks, fossils, shells and driftwood garnered from forest and stream adventures.

His backyard is his laboratory. Two maple trees on his family’s property bear holes that dripped sap from February to March, yielding the precious sap that eventually made it onto his mom’s homemade pancakes.

“If you tap is correctly, it will not harm the tree and it will heal up,” he said pointing to the half-inch hole on one of the few sunny days in March.

“You tap it on the sunny side, and put in a connection and a tube to let the sap run out into a jug,” he said. “We tapped three trees over the entire season, but not at the same time.”

Ten gallons of sap were then boiled down into two shades of maple syrup. The lighter one is from a sugar maple, and the darker one is from a red maple, with slightly different flavors. His project yielded more than a dozen small bottles of precious sweetness he shared with friends and family.

“Boiling it down takes a very long time, between four and 12 hours,” he said. “The process evaporates the water and concentrates the sugar, turning it brown and golden.”

Although this was Cramer’s first year making maple syrup, he said it won’t be his last.

“It was a success, so I’ll do it again,” he said.

Cramer’s parents helped him make a YouTube video demonstrating the process.

He is now working on planting a vegetable garden of potatoes, onions, tomatoes and various types of green beans.

Last year, he grew a 28-pound watermelon and sunflowers that reached 11 feet tall. He has the pictures to prove it on his mom’s Facebook page. Margaret Cramer calls it “Steven’s World.”

For Christmas, Cramer got an aquaponic growing system.

“He doesn’t want toys,” Margaret Cramer said.

Cramer is an A-B student who spends all his free time researching, collecting, experimenting and drawing various species of plants, although for the past few months he has started practicing karate and has moved quickly from a white belt to a yellow belt.

“I’m pretty unique,” he said. “They call me ‘Plant Boy’ at school, or sometimes the kids call me ‘Steven Universe.’ I don’t know where they got that from.”

Cramer said he has always loved plants, even when he was a kid playing in the sandbox of his Galloway home.

“I lived here my whole life and have a lot of woodlands in back. I guess I was born naturally to love plants,” he said. “I like the unique nature of plants.”

Last summer, he went to a Rutgers University’s “Kids Go to College” program in Hammonton which was taught by members of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. He also attended “Creature Feature,” a marine life program at the Tuckerton Seaport.

Even at his young age, Cramer was welcomed at the Native Plant Swap sponsored by Go Green Galloway and held at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

Aside from scientific exploits, Cramer enjoys traveling.

“I like to go on adventures with my dad. I’ve been to Niagara Falls twice, and Bushkill Falls and Brandywine Creek in Pennsylvania,” Cramer said.

The family recently purchased inflatable kayaks that will take them down South Jersey’s streams and rivers, as soon as the weather is warm enough.

“I can’t wait till summer,” he said.

View Steven’s YouTube video at http://youtu.be/opf8rCeLKPo, and view pictures of his plants on Margaret Cramer’s Facebook page. 

  Steven Cramer of Galloway Township holds some of the maple syrup he made this winter. Steven Cramer of Galloway Township holds some of the maple syrup he made this winter.


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