Idyll Banter: Sun Shines on Pioneering Solar Sugarhouse

By:  Chris Bohjalian

Lincoln’s Tom Gadhue started sugaring on his own when he was 11 years old and living in Shelburne. “I got bit in the sixth grade, and this has been my love ever since,” he told me last week. He’s 54 now. “I had thirty buckets when I was a kid, and I was making the blackest syrup – but I loved it.”

As an adult, he had sugarhouses in Jeffersonville and then Huntington. He had 300 buckets in Jeffersonville, and he recalls his brother-in-law – who helped him with the sugaring – saying he was so tired from lugging the buckets through the snow to the sugarhouse that he could clip his toenails without bending over.

The very first sugaring season after Gadhue sold the operation in Huntington, he realized how much he missed it. “I remember telling my wife one evening that I really had to get back into it.”

His wife Rhonda’s response? “Fine, but I get a kitchen.” And that would be a kitchen in. . .the sugarhouse.

Tom was recalling the origins of his newest (and, he hopes, last) sugarhouse: The Solar Sweet Maple Farm high in the hills of South Lincoln, a beautiful, state-of-the art operation that is far more sugar mansion than sugar shack. Fifty-six solar panels sit atop the structure’s southern peak, generating the power 52 weeks a year that Gadhue uses almost in its entirety during the six or so weeks when he is sugaring. It is, he says, his “dream operation” – his wife’s, too, and not simply because it has that kitchen. It also has a bedroom, a fireplace and hearth, and a post and beam dining room where, last Saturday morning, he and Rhonda offered neighbors an $8 all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. Roughly 170 people came, including Lincoln’s Christine Fraioli, a self-described “Vermont pancake connoisseur.” Her verdict? “The pancakes were absolutely fantastic. The ultimate was the sourdough with blueberry compote and maple syrup. It was worth every calorie.”

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