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Archive for Monday, October 25, 2010

High tunnels’ extend growing season for many fruit and vegetable crops near Lawrence

Mark Lumpe talks about high tunnels like the one behind him that Wakarusa Valley Farms is putting up. Eight farmers in Douglas County are taking advantage of a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that helps pay for the tunnels, which will help them extend their growing seasons.

Mark Lumpe talks about high tunnels like the one behind him that Wakarusa Valley Farms is putting up. Eight farmers in Douglas County are taking advantage of a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that helps pay for the tunnels, which will help them extend their growing seasons.

October 25, 2010

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Come Dec. 1, Scott Thellman expects to be harvesting green beans.

Farmer discusses benefits of hoop house

Mark Lumpe, of Wakarusa Valley Farms, explains why he decided to use a USDA grant to help build a hoop house on his farm near Clinton Lake. He built his first hoop house several years ago and says it provides a better climate for plants to grow and extends the growing season. Enlarge video

Noah Wood, Lawrence, works up some ground for salad mix beds in a high tunnel at Wakarusa Valley Farms. The large, unheated greenhouses allow farmers to protect their plants from the elements by covering the area with plastic that’s attached to metal stakes and arches.

Noah Wood, Lawrence, works up some ground for salad mix beds in a high tunnel at Wakarusa Valley Farms. The large, unheated greenhouses allow farmers to protect their plants from the elements by covering the area with plastic that’s attached to metal stakes and arches.

That’s right, fresh green beans in Kansas in December.

Thellman is one of eight farmers in Douglas County who are taking advantage of a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that helps pay for high tunnels. Large, unheated greenhouses, high tunnels — or hoop houses, as they are also known — allow farmers to protect their plants from the elements by covering the area with plastic that’s attached to metal stakes and arches.

High tunnels extend the growing season by a few weeks on each side. For Kansans who like to buy their produce locally, that means fresh strawberries in May and tomatoes in October. Shoppers will find local greens earlier and later in the season at locally owned downtown restaurants, The Community Mercantile and the Lawrence Farmers’ Market.

The grant signifies a shift in how the federal government disperses money to farmers. In the past, farm programs have largely targeted commodity crops such as wheat, soybeans and corn.

“For vegetable and fruit growers there has been very little help,” said Bill Wood, director of Douglas County’s K-State Research and Extension office. “This is one way to improve that. And, it also strengths the local food possibilities.”

Local preferences

As more Americans become interested in increasing local food production, high tunnels will become more popular, said Dan Nagengast, executive director of the Kansas Rural Center.

Nagengast has been an advocate of high tunnels for years. With his wife, Lynn Byczynski, Nagengast has used four high tunnels for the past several years as part of their flower growing operation.

“As the weather gets extreme, it’s a really cheap way to put a piece of plastic between (your plants) and whatever the hell is going on,” Nagengast said.

With use of the tunnels, Nagengast’s farm has produced broccoli in January and leeks, cabbage and spinach over much of the winter. Their flowers were bigger and more bountiful.

“Soon, the question starts being, ‘why don’t we have the whole field under high tunnels?” he said.

For farms that are organic or will transition to become certified organic, the federal grant covers a large chunk of the cost of putting up a high tunnel, which can run between $5,000 and $7,000.

Close to 50 farmers in Kansas have taken advantage of the program. By far, the biggest group comes from Douglas County.

“Most of them are young producers wanting to find a niche market. There is certainly a demand in Douglas County and Johnson County for organic produce,” said Clyde Mermis, district conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the agency administering the grant through the USDA.

Outfoxing the weather

This week, Noah Wood was watering young salad greens that sat inside a hoop house at Wakarusa Valley Farms. In the back were still-producing tomato plants that he needed to clear to plant more salad mix.

Based on the success of his first hoop house, Mark Lumpe, owner of the farm, went ahead and applied for a grant to build a second one. As soon as Lumpe covers the structure with plastic, he plans to plant mushrooms and greens in that hoop house this fall.

“When it is really wet and I can get outside to work, I say ‘did I tell you how much I love my new hoop house?’ It always gives us something to do,” Lumpe said.

With more farmers using hoop houses, Lumpe hopes others will agree to sell later in the year at the farmers’ market or extend the weeks they sell food to groups of consumers through community-supported agriculture subscriptions.

“This will make a big difference,” Lumpe said.

For Thellman, the government’s offer to chip in $4,000 for his hoop house gave him the boost he was waiting for to start growing organic vegetables. The 20-year-old, who is a freshman at Iowa State University, started hay farming at 15. But he’s always wanted to try growing organic fruits and vegetables.

“So, this grant helped me take the next step,” Thellman said of the government’s offer to pay for 75 percent of the cost.

While he is away at school, Thellman has help from neighbor Barbara Clark, owner of Maggie’s Farm. Along with green beans, they have arugula, leeks, radishes, beets and basil growing under their hoop house.

“It’s kind of a learning experience,” Thellman said. “It’s not something you think about, going out and picking green beans in December.”

Comments

Richard Heckler 3 years, 11 months ago

Yes to fiscally brilliant farmers! and more good food!

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think_about_it 3 years, 11 months ago

Look for these government subsidized hoop houses on a Craigslist near you.

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Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 10 months ago

They are rather difficult to move.

They would probably end up like the greenhouses that the Israelis left for the Palestinians to use when they left the settlements in the Gaza strip - they'd just be torn up and sold for scrap.

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eatlocalfood 3 years, 11 months ago

High tunnels are a valuable risk management tool for farms. As Kansans know, our weather is quite volatile. Too much rain at the wrong time and the window for planting can come and go. Throw a hail storm in, and crops can be set back or even destroyed. High tunnels help to mitigate these weather related risks. High tunnels also, as mentioned in the article, extend the growing season. This means farmers are actually earning money for weeks beyond what is possible in field production. Many farmers find that they are able to recoup their hoop house investment within 12-24 months. So most farmers, once they develop the new skills needed to farm in the hoop house environment, end up putting another tunnel on their farm. I applaud NCRS' commitment to assisting specialty crop farmers to diversify and to manage risk on our local farms.

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coolmarv 3 years, 11 months ago

That high tunnel looks a lot like a green house. What's the difference?

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Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 10 months ago

A high tunnel is always a greenhouse, but a greenhouse is not always a high tunnel.

A high tunnel is a type of greenhouse.

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somedude20 3 years, 11 months ago

i was high once and drove through a tunnel

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Flap Doodle 3 years, 11 months ago

Since there is plastic involved I expect Debbie Downer will start copy/pasting his objections on this thread.

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George Lippencott 3 years, 11 months ago

IS THIS THE HUSBAND OF THE COMMISSIONER WHO STUCK US WITH A 9% TAX INCREASE? FEDERAL MONEY FOR THOSE THINGS JUDGED GOOD BY THE LOCAL MOB - TAKE TAKE TAKE GREED GREED GREED

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George Lippencott 3 years, 10 months ago

YES i DO. TIRED OF LOSING GROUND WHILE MY TAXES FUND OTHER PEOPLE GETTING RICHER.

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QuinnSutore 3 years, 10 months ago

Government spending, now bringing more salad to a bowl near you!

Good thing the biggest threat to this country right now is low fiber content. Way to go libs!

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gatekeeper 3 years, 10 months ago

Because it's so much better to pay to import veggies in the colder months from Mexico, huh?

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George Lippencott 3 years, 10 months ago

NOW THE LEFT WANTS TO UNDO NATURE. RATHER THAN BRING IN CROPS FROM WHER THEY GROW WE WILL GROW THEM HERE DISPITE THE WINTER AND AT MUCH HIGHER COST. i CAN BUY A LOT OF TOMATOES FOR $7,000 TIMES GOD KNOWS HOW MANY GRANTS THAT WILL PRODUCE ONLY SMALL YIELDS SO i WILL STILL HAVE TO IMPORT TOMATOES

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 10 months ago

That's completely absurd, George. First, there's absolutely nothing natural about shipping fresh produce thousands of miles from where it's grown. Once these are constructed, if properly maintained, they can get produce to your table for a fraction of the energy it takes to get it from Chile or Mexico, for many years.

And just a single one of these structures can supply tomatoes and other produce to scores of people, not just you.

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kernal 3 years, 10 months ago

get a grip, George. Last estimate I read about tomatoes is 35% come from Mexico. Approximately two years ago we imported close to half our fruit and 20-25% of our vegetables and that is going to keep increasing. Here's a head pounder for you: 60% of the apple juice in the US is imported from China. That one was a shocker to me.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. We no longer have enough farm land to grow our own food for this country. We need to be looking more carefully at how we use our land!

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George Lippencott 3 years, 10 months ago

I am all for locally grown food. You would thiink we would have more of it here. I am against subsidies - all of them . I am realistic in recognizing that growing enough produce for all of us in the winter locally may not be economically vivable. I just may have to import it from somehere else where the climate allows it to be grown during our winters. Spending substantial sums from my taxes to grow small quaqntities off season to make you feel better is just stupid. I have a grip - do you???

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Christine Anderson 3 years, 10 months ago

Good grief, does even talk of vegetables have to turn political?

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George_Braziller 3 years, 10 months ago

Oh how I wish I had enough land and sun for one of these. I would be in heaven.

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