Michigan Tech News

A Sweet Solution to Michigan's Economic Problems


By Jennifer Donovan


Last Modified 11:29 AM, May 25, 2010

Michigan Tech Forestry and Environmental Resource Management (FERM) members tend the maple syrup evaporator, keeping the fire going, watching tap levels in the pans, making sure it does not boil over and drawing off the syrup.

May 24, 2010—

Dave Kossak, a third-year forestry student at Michigan Technological University, has a sweet solution to Michigan’s economic woes: maple syrup.  He’d like to see Michigan become the maple syrup capital of the world, and his proposal for accomplishing that goal has won him a $5,000 scholarship as the fourth-place winner of a college student competition called Motivate Michigan.

Motivate Michigan’s corporate, nonprofit and media partners contributed more than $48,000 to provide scholarships to the students with the top 10 innovative ideas for a better Michigan.

Michigan has more sugar maples than Quebec, which currently produces 70 percent of the maple syrup made in North America, and Michigan’s trees are of better quality, Kossak notes. “We could be producing more maple syrup than Quebec or Vermont—the top US producer,” he claims. “We could also become the production center for equipment used by the maple syrup manufacturers. This could be big for Michigan.”

Kossak, who plays on the offensive line for Michigan Tech’s football team, has always had a taste for maple syrup. He especially likes to eat it on ice cream. He got interested in its production when he joined Tech’s Forestry and Environmental Resource Management (FERM) enterprise program, which provides hands-on experiences for undergraduates in applied ecology and forestry. One of FERM's projects is a small-scale maple syrup production operation, along with a series of workshops and field trips for K-12 students.

Mike Ross, a Rudyard, Mich.-based maple syrup wholesale bulk producer and equipment salesman, sold FERM some equipment for their maple syrup project, and he and Kossak started talking.  “In seven minutes, I had three pages of notes,” Kossak recalls.

He also had the beginnings of a provocative idea for helping Michigan turn its economy around. When Motivate Michigan put out a call for college students to submit their innovative ideas for improving their state, Kossak was quick to propose his maple syrup solution.

It quickly made the top 10 of 280 ideas submitted, and in a public online vote that followed, Kossak moved up into the top five. He and the four other finalists were invited to Livonia to make a personal presentation before Motivate Michigan judges on May 24.

“Only one-hundredth of one percent of the sugar maples in Michigan are tapped,” he points out. Quebec taps 34 percent of its trees.  “We could be producing 280 million gallons of maple syrup a year in Michigan.”

There are obstacles to that sweet future, of course, including access to land and a need for tax credits to enable large-scale development. But Kossak is convinced that these hurdles can be overcome.

As a forestry major at Michigan Tech, he is focusing on sustainable business and marketing aspects of forestry. He is also working to earn a certificate in industrial forestry,  

Kossak hails from Columbiaville, Mich., where he attended the Lapeer County Schools.

If his maple syrup dreams materialize, he’s hoping to work with Michigan Tech to develop a larger Sugarbush program and to consider offering a certificate in maple syrup production.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries around the world. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our beautiful campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.