Farmer turns wood chips into boiler fuel

Published 3:44 am Saturday, February 14, 2009

By Staff
Lifestyles &Features Editor
YEATESVILLE — A local farmer has “gone green” as he pioneers alternative energy sources.
Tom VanStaalduinen, whose family owns the Petals &Produce stores in Yeatesville and Washington, has installed a wood-chip boiler that uses wood waste-products instead of propane. The boiler heats the four greenhouses and the market building at the Yeatesville location.
Although VanStaalduinen has kept his previous heating system — which burns liquid propane — on standby, he has heated his buildings this winter with the new boiler. So far, he said, he’s very satisfied.
The lumber company delivers a supply of the wood chips — 24 tons worth — to VanStaalduinen’s business.
The initial cost of purchasing the unit was high, but he expects it will more than pay for itself within the next four or five years, VanStaalduinen said. Since the boiler is foreign-made, it had to be converted for use in this country, but friends pitched in to make it work, he said.
Manning credits a Washington electrical company with getting him wired up and ready to go.
A recycled grain bin obtained from a fellow farmer and the sweat of nephew John William VanStaalduinen— who laid all the heating lines — completed the project.
The boiler has a lifespan of 10 to 20 years, depending on how well it is maintained. And such maintenance is relatively light, according to VanStaalduinen.
The operation of the boiler is simple: VanStaalduinen moves a load of wood chips via tractor to the recycled bin, and from there the chips are transported by conveyor to the boiler. The chips drop into the solid fire-brick furnace, where they are burned and converted into fuel.
The process is virtually emissions-free, and there is little waste product, VanStaalduinen said. A couple of thousand pounds of wood chips are reduced down to fill a 5-gallon bucket, he added.
VanStaalduinen isn’t the first in his family to innovatively grow flowers and produce. His grandfather, Leonard VanStaalduinen, was among the first in Holland to heat his greenhouses to commercially grow flowers.
Tom VanStaalduinen’s father, Bill, recalled the family’s farming history. “My dad was one of the biggest flower growers in Holland, and he was the first to ship flowers to England by airplane,” he said.
With farming on the decline, the family — father, mother and ten children — left Holland in 1938 and spent the next few years in Canada. They moved to the United States and settled in the Terra Ceia area of Beaufort County in spring 1943.
What would the family patriarch think of the innovations at Petals &Produce?