SHELBURNE, Vt. -- It cost Shelburne Farms about $1,000 a year to mow grass that doesn't end up as hay for the animals and simply goes to waste. Now staff at the historic farm have come up with a use for it: turn it to pellets and burn them to heat the massive main barn.
A boiler room is a strange place for a party, but the only things missing yesterday were cocktails and canapes as staff from the farm, a historic landmark and environmental education center, joined representatives of the Grass Energy Collaborative and others to watch grass pellets get loaded into the barn's furnace.
Grass as fuel is not new. Burning it got Great Plains pioneers through many a tough winter in the 19th century. What is relatively new is the idea that grass pellets could be manufactured for maximum heating efficiency and sold commercially.
''This is a small step toward a much bigger future," Jock Gill, president of the nonprofit collaborative, said of yesterday's test burn.
The hope at Shelburne Farms is to gather grass from the farm, as well as neighboring farms, use a special machine to turn the grass in to pellets and burn it much the way wood pellets are burned in boilers now.
The advantages, said Marshall Webb, special projects coordinator at Shelburne Farms, include projections that grass pellets will cost about half what wood pellets do. The grass is dried by the sun, rather than with energy-intensive processes used for wood pellets, he added.
Perhaps most important, the grass pellets can come right from the farm, Webb said.
''The ultimate goal by 2020 is to be powered completely by renewable energy," he said.