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Growing up on a farm in Iowa, I understand how farmers are tied to the land, yet also tied to the seasons. Spring means planting, while fall always reminds me of harvesting the crops. However, does it always have to be this way?
Hoophouses just might be the answer to extending the growing season and increasing growers’ incomes. With funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), professors at Michigan State University (MSU) are studying hoophouses and teaching farmers to use them to extend the farming season.
Hoophouses are unheated, passive solar greenhouses that can extend the growing season for vegetables in cold climates. Hoophouses also provide more opportunities to grow a wider variety of plants. As it is very inexpensive, many of the farmers using hoophouses are small scale with fewer than 10 acres. But Kathy Fusiliers and her husband of Manchester, MI, are integrating hoophouses into large-scale production.
“We don’t have good land, we have small fields, the developers are buying the land,” Fusiliers said. With the hoophouses she is able to sell her produce to about 18 farmers markets per week, and if she really does it right she can make about $8,000 to $10,000 per year.
The NIFA funding to study hoophouses was awarded to MSU through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Prosperity for Small and Medium-Sized Farms and Rural Communities grants program. The program supports research that directly benefits family farms and rural communities similar to the hoophouse project at Michigan.
A study conducted by the MSU professor showed that if Michigan residents increased Michigan-grown fruit and vegetable consumption by about 20 percent to meet nutritional guidelines, the state’s general and economic health would benefit from year-round produce.
Farmers are using hoophouses for different purposes in northern climates. Nic Welty started using hoophouses to extend the CSA at Black Star Farm in Michigan.
“The Hoophouses add value to the entire CSA model,” Welty said. He is trying to change the way people eat by producing more varieties and over a longer season. “People are hungry for good local food.”