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Sweet outcome

RYAN SCHWARZROCK, a ninth-grader at Frazee High School, made his first batch of maple syrup when he was in sixth grade.

FRAZEE -- What's a young man to do as the Minnesota winter starts giving way to the not-yet-toasty days of spring?

If you're 14-year-old Frazee High School ninth-grader Ryan Schwarzrock, you get to work making more than 12 gallons of maple syrup and gear up to collect some cash via the farmers market.

It's no simple task considering it takes about 30 to 40 gallons of maple sap to get a single gallon of syrup.

Schwarzrock has tapped more than 60 red, silver and sugar maple trees behind his house, two miles west of Wolf Lake, Minn. And, once he starts boiling that down into syrup, his dad, Doug, said his son probably puts in more than 30 hours over the course of a weekend.

But a job is only work if you don't like it.

"I look forward to it all year," said the outdoor-loving Schwarzrock. "I would go crazy if I couldn't go outside."

Raising the temperature to 219 degrees, Schwarzrock does most of the processing of the sap in large boilers housed under a shed in his backyard. He uses a hydrometer to test the water-to-sugar ratio, shooting for 67 percent sugar.

After the syrup is boiled down, he filters it and pours it into self-sealing bottles.

The result is a thick, mild syrup worthy of a king's flapjacks.

Doug Schwarzrock, who teaches science at Frazee High School, said his son "figured out this whole process all by himself."

The hobby has become a pretty profitable one for Schwarzrock. Eva Fritz will sell the syrup at the Local Farm Market on Hwy. 34 in Park Rapids this year.

"It's good," said Fritz, 57, who manages the Local Farm Market. "And the story is a wonderful selling point."

Fritz said she carries the syrup because it's a draw at the market and because she really wants "to encourage teens that are entrepreneurs."

If the whole venture seems like quite an undertaking for a ninth-grade student, consider the fact that he first started making his own maple syrup in sixth grade after reading an article called "Backyard Maple Syrup." He thought it "sounded fun."

Schwarzrock said he is "always building something or working on something."

The wall of his room is graced by animal hides he tanned himself. He showed off spear fishing lures he'd fashioned. He also built the armoire in his room. And he made a drill bit he'll use to screw the caps onto the maple syrup bottles.

There will be plenty of bottles to be capped - 132 if all goes as planned.

And, while he enjoys the work, itself, he also enjoys making some cash on the side.

"This year," Schwarzrock said, "I'm saving for a snowmobile."

How to buy it

Ryan Schwarzrock's syrup will be available for purchase at Local Farm Market on Highway 34 across from Pizza Hut in Park Rapids, Minn. He can also be contacted through the social networking Web site

J. Shane Mercer is a writer for The Forum of Fargo Moorhead, which is a publication of Forum Communications Co.