Homepage Featured News

Major Starksboro sugarworks changes hands

STARKSBORO — Sugarmaker Dave Folino has spent over four decades tapping trees in the woods of Starksboro’s Hillsboro Mountain. 

Through the years, his sugaring operation has grown from 80 leaky buckets into Hillsboro Sugarworks, a year-round business that produces more than 7,000 gallons of syrup annually and that Folino has run with his wife, Sue, for around 20 years.  

It’s been a sweet run, but Hillsboro Sugarworks is now getting ready to enter a new chapter. 

The Folinos have sold the operation to Heffernan Family Sugarworks, a neighboring team of sugarmakers who will merge the maple farm with their own and continue producing syrup under the Hillsboro Sugarworks name for years to come. 

SUE AND DAVE Folino, shown this past spring, have spent over 40 years sugaring in the woods of Starksboro’s Hillsboro Mountain. The pair ultimately decided this past maple season would be their last running Hillsboro Sugarworks and have sold their farm to neighboring sugarmakers, Heffernan Family Sugarworks. 
Photo/Winter Caplanson, New England Food and Farm

“In the past 15 years, the Heffernan family has built one of the best maple farms in Vermont. They met the Folinos’ picky standards. (The Folinos) are very happy that they found the right fit and are confident that it is in the right hands and will be for future generations,” the Folinos wrote in a recent press release. 

The sale closed this past December and included the Starksboro sugarbush land, sugarhouse, equipment and the Hillsboro Sugarworks brand. The sugarworks is located on the north side of Hillsboro Mountain and consists of 16,000 taps on 351 acres. 

The Folinos have spent decades tending to the land and developing the markets that Hillsboro Sugarworks sells in today. 

Dave Folino began sugaring on the Hillsboro Sugarworks property in 1979. Around 20 years later, the pair decided to expand what had become a large hobby into a full-time, year-round business.  

They’ve each worn several hats over the years, with Sue working to build and maintain the Hillsboro Sugarworks website and markets and Dave working in the woods and creating Hillsboro’s well-known graphics.   

“The best testimony to their joint efforts is the fact that their accounts and customers have stayed loyal to Hillsboro Sugarworks for decades in the middle of the country’s most competitive maple market,” the Folinos wrote. “All of their accounts have proven through the years, that their commitment to Hillsboro Sugarworks states that they adamantly support the local agriculture of Vermont, as well as the success of small businesses. Providing the shelf space in their stores, then providing the customers an opportunity to buy and support the farm.”

Since starting the maple farm, the Folinos have built a loyal customer base that includes longtime buyers Middlebury College and the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. Their products have filled shelves around the state and beyond, and the pair has received various awards for their approach to forestry as well as to sugaring.    

Running Hillsboro Sugarworks has been a labor of love for the Folinos, but Dave, nearing 70, ultimately decided this past maple season would be his last. 

CHANGING HANDS 

Having dedicated over 40 years to Hillsboro Sugarworks, the Folinos were particular about who they were willing to sell the business to.    

“Connected with a piece of land long enough to watch a sapling turn into a tappable tree, they were very attached to, and protective of the place,” reads the Folinos’ press release. “With relationships built over decades, and healthy markets developed, they felt protective of the business as well.” 

After much consideration, the Folinos began discussing the sale of the maple farm with the Heffernans, a team of nearby sugarmakers who the Folinos felt shared their commitment to quality forestry and sugaring. 

As a senior in high school, Brian Heffernan, who runs Heffernan Family Sugarworks with his father, Bill, spent the spring semester working in the Folinos’ sugarbush. 

Dave Folino later helped Brian and Bill start their own sugaring operation after the Heffernans purchased an established sugarbush a few miles south of the Folinos on Hillsboro Mountain in 2008. 

“Dave was instrumental in setting us up and telling us what to do because sugaring had changed so much over the years. Sugaring was a whole different ball game than when I was a kid,” Bill Heffernan said. 

Heffernan Family Sugarworks has expanded since then, now consisting of over 50,000 taps on more than 500 acres of woods on Hillsboro Mountain. 

BRIAN HEFFERNAN, LEFT, and his parents, Bill and Julie, stand alongside Hillsboro Sugarworks founders and former owners Dave and Sue Folino. The Folinos recently sold their Starksboro sugarworks to the Heffernans, who run a maple farm a few miles south on Hillsboro Mountain. 
Photo courtesy of Julie Heffernan

The purchase of Hillsboro Sugarworks provided an opportunity to continue growing the family-run operation. 

“My son has three young boys, and my daughter has three young boys and a girl, and we just hope to grow the family business,” Bill Heffernan said. “I would love to see my grandchildren brought up in a farmer-type situation, whether managing the sugar maples, or we also grow vegetables in the summer. I’d like to see them grow up with that experience.” 

NEW CHAPTER, SAME STORY

The Heffernans team will take over operations at Hillsboro Sugarworks beginning this year.

When the Independent spoke with Bill Heffernan this past Friday, the team had already put out nearly all of its taps around each of the Hillsboro Mountain sugarbushes it now operates. 

Heffernan said the team has taken on additional part-time employees this year and now consists of three full-time workers and six part-timers, as well as an additional seasonal team member who worked full-time throughout the winter. 

“That’s the reason that we’re done tapping so early, is because we have so much help,” he explained. “It usually takes us until mid-March.” 

While the sale for an undisclosed price marks the beginning of a new chapter for Hillsboro Sugarworks, the Heffernans plan to continue the Folinos’ legacy of quality forestry and sugaring. 

The Heffernan team will continue maintaining the sugarbushes they operate as they have in previous years. The team has forest management programs geared toward sugarbushes for each of the parcels they own, and they’ll continue following those plans moving forward.   

“We only use one tap per tree, and we try to be really, really careful and we don’t tap young trees,” Heffernan said of the team’s forest management. 

Like the Folinos, the Heffernans produce certified organic syrup.

This maple season, sap harvested from the Hillsboro Sugarworks property and the Heffernan team’s other taps will be boiled at the Heffernans’ current facility, which is 100% solar powered. 

As the team takes the reins of the operation, Heffernan said he is looking forward to carrying on the Hillsboro Sugarworks name that the Folinos have created, one he hopes to pass on to future generations of sugarmakers. 

“Dave’s had it for 40 years, and not that I’ll live that long, but I’d love to see my son pass it on to his children,” he said. 

Share this story:

More News
News

New nonprofit helps pet owners in need

A new county nonprofit is working to prevent instances of animal cruelty by ensuring more … (read more)

News

Youth mountain biking club off to strong start

It’s been about three seasons since the 5Town Riders youth mountain biking club got off to … (read more)

Education News

College students give youngsters a global perspective

Looking back on her time at Mount Abraham Union High School, there’s a learning experience … (read more)

Share this story: