Solar Sweet Maple Farm taps into sap

LINCOLN — Solar Sweet Maple Farm sits atop a hill on a dirt road in South Lincoln, up past fields with spectacular mountain views and evenly placed colonial homes. Inside the farm’s red-trimmed, solar-panel-topped sugarhouse, the air smells like sweet maple syrup and freshly cut wood.
The high ceiling boasts traces of the reclaimed 4,000-square-foot barn out of which the structure was built. LED lights illuminate the clean wooden floors and hulking wood-powered evaporator that looms in a central room. A bedroom is suspended on a second floor, with windows that overlook the entire operation. Off to the left, rows of jars line a windowsill, each filled with one of the varying hues of golden liquid.
The building is dream-turned-reality for owner Tom Gadhue and his wife, Rhonda. Tom began sugaring when he was eight years old, making syrup over an open fire with his friends after school.
“We used to make the blackest, darkest syrup that you could possibly make. We’d boil it for about three days after school before it finally became syrup,” he said. “It was the nastiest syrup I’ve ever seen, but we loved it.”
After a sugaring stint in Huntington, he found the piece of land that now houses Solar Sweet. “The Farm” is home to 15,000 taps, with an additional 8,000 taps in two nearby locations. Underground pipes carry the sap to one 6,000- and two 7,500-gallon tanks, where the liquid is pumped through a reverse-osmosis machine, which removes a lot of water from the sap.
Then the magic happens in the evaporator, where the sap is caramelized.
“This is our evaporator,” Tom said, pointing to a giant shiny metal apparatus. “We burn wood to heat it, and that’s where the syrup takes on its color. That’s where the caramelization takes place. That is also where you get your different grades of syrup. You really have no choice with what you’re going to get. The later in the year you get, as the sap gets warmer, the sugar starts to change, and you get your darker syrups. Earlier in the year you get your brighter, cleaner, lighter-color syrup.”
Rhonda works mostly in the building’s kitchen, where she makes maple cream, maple candy, maple kielbasa and, of course, pancakes. “We host a pancake breakfast the first weekend in March, and this is our fourth year that we did it. Every year, it gets a little bigger. This year we had around 300 people,” she said.
This weekend, Solar Sweet Maple Farm will be open for all visitors for Vermont’s Statewide Maple Open House Weekend. Visitors can take a tour of the facilities or sample the different grades of syrup. The Gadhues are excited to share their passion for maple with locals and out-of-staters.
“There’s so many things you can do with it,” Tom said. “You can make different stages of maple syrup, you can boil it a little longer, you can make cream out of it, you can make spreads, you can make candy. It’s so flexible. And it’s sweet. People love sweets.”

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