Groups unite to open high tunnel in Pittsburg

? Members from Live Well Crawford County, Kansas State University Research and Extension, the Career and Technical Education Center of Crawford County and the Crawford County Commission officially cut the ribbon on the high tunnel on the CTEC property Monday.

The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports that the high tunnel functions like a greenhouse, but sits on the ground, allowing produce to be planted directly into the soil, and was funded through a grant from the Kansas Health Foundation.

“It’s such a neat project because it’s so collaborative,” County Commissioner Jeff Murphy said. “And when government employees and organizations can stretch their job descriptions and do something like this, it’s really great for the taxpayers.”

The tunnel will be used by the organizations listed above for a number of programs.

CTEC Interim Director Randy Corns said the high tunnel will allow CTEC to offer agriculture classes to the six Crawford County high schools. The classes are expected to begin being offered next year, and will be taught by an instructor hired by Fort Scott Community College, which partners with CTEC to offer several courses.

“Not only adults, but students in the community will benefit from this,” he said. “We plan not only to teach the agriculture side, but the side of turning a facility like this into a business.”

That is also the plan for Kansas State Research and Extension, according to Wildcat District Community Development Director Amanda Marney. Wildcat District Extension has been involved with the high tunnel since its beginning, and helped set up the facility, as well as planting.

Wildcat District Extension has set up the LEGS program — Local, Eat, Grow, Sustainability — which will utilize the high tunnel for hands-on workshops, teaching community members to grow their own produce and even set up a high tunnel facility themselves.

“This has been a learning experience for us, which is exactly what we wanted,” Marney said. “Now we can provide the public with real data about what it takes to start this type of facility.”

Marney said workshops will focus on everything from growing and preservation to acquiring grants to start a similar facility.

The grant through the Kansas Health Foundation allotted $20,000 of a $40,000 grant to Live Well for the establishment of the high tunnel. A portion of the money was used to hire Ed Cook as the manager of the facility for the summer.

According to Extension Agent and Live Well Member Martha Murphy, once agriculture classes are established through CTEC, management of the high tunnel will be turned over to the students.

The first round of produce — which is currently planted — will be given to employers who are part of Live Well’s worksite wellness programs. The other half of the KHF grant was to be used for worksite wellness, so Murphy said the two projects work together well.