New pellet-fired equipment streamlines Goshen maple sugaring operation

GOSHEN — Sugaring season is off to a great start for Ethan West and his partner, Annina Seiler.
Their operation, dubbed Republic of Vermont, doubled its taps to 4,000 this year, and West has just installed a new wood-pellet-fired evaporator.
Since installing the new equipment, he’s faced one dilemma he didn’t expect.
“At first I was kind of bored, actually,” West said.
No more opening the door every seven or eight minutes to load in more firewood. The new evaporator is mostly automated, so there isn’t much left for him to do but watch and wait.
West and Seiler decided to make the switch last May. The new equipment arrived the first week of February.
“That was cutting it a little close,” he said. “There were a few sleepless nights while we were waiting for it.”
It took them about a week to set up the new equipment.
“They kind of just drop it off in your dooryard, and then you get to figure it out for yourself,” he said, adding that the French Canadian company’s user manual wasn’t always clearly translated.
But West and Seiler’s first test fire succeeded and the system is now up and running.
Republic of Vermont buys its pellets, which are made from 100 percent compressed sawdust, from Vermont Wood Pellet in Clarendon. A truck drives up to the sugarhouse silo and the pellets are “blown in,” which really means blown up. The pellets are forced upward through an outside pipe to the top of the silo, which is taller than the sugarhouse and holds up to 11 tons of fuel.
“It’s really loud,” West said.
One such delivery per year, he hopes, is all they’ll need.
Republic of Vermont was the first sugarhouse to sign up for the rebate on pellet-fired evaporators offered by the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF), which was established in 2005 to help develop and deploy sustainable energy sources. Republic of Vermont received a $6,000 rebate from the CEDF — $200 for every square foot of the new evaporator pan.
Not only is the system more efficient than wood firing, West said, but it saves him a lot of time. Now that he’s no longer dropping trees or cutting wood in the offseason, he can focus on Republic of Vermont’s apiary and the retail side of the business, which he says is itself a full-time job.
The name of the operation was inspired by the early history of the Green Mountain State.
“Maple and honey are a part of that history, too, and we feel like that history is part of the essence of what we’re doing,” West said.
They’re not secessionists, though.
“Every year we get a couple of people asking us if we’re the Second Vermont Republic,” which is a local movement seeking to restore Vermont to its status as an independent republic.
“That’s not us,” West said. “We’re not political.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].
Below, the wood pellet-fueled fire that keeps the sap boiling
Fresh maple syrup, before it gets filtered
A cascade of wood pellets
Steam rises from boiling sap
Filling a barrel with hot, filtered syrup

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