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Sustainability Is More Attainable with High Tunnel Initiative

Fresh produce like the zucchini and kohlrabi pictured above are sold weekly at the Athens Farmers Market.

Fresh produce like the radishes pictured above are sold weekly at the Athens Farmers Market.

High tunnels are hitting the mark for farmers who sell their produce at the Athens Farmers Market. In the past, the market operated once a week on Saturday mornings between April and October. But now, because some northeast Georgia growers are using the tunnels to extend their growing seasons, the market is open twice a week, from April until mid-December—a full eight months!

A USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service program has helped these producers produce fruit and vegetables longer, extending the market’s open season by two months.

NRCS’ High Tunnel Initiative provides producers with financial and technical assistance to build high tunnels, which extend the growing season into the cold months. High tunnels, sometimes referred to as hoop houses, have a metal frame wrapped in plastic and are easy and fairly cheap to build and are passively heated.

These structures allow farmers to generate income as the temperature drops in the fall and winter, when the types of crops they grow outdoors are limited. They offer a significant benefit to owners of small farms, limited-resource farmers and organic producers by providing a steady source of income during what would typically be lean months.

The Athens Farmers Market in Northeast Georgia is able to stay open longer because many of its producers have high tunnels, which extend their growing seasons.

The Athens Farmers Market in Northeast Georgia is able to stay open longer because many of its producers have high tunnels, which extend their growing seasons.

Because of their high tunnels, northeast Georgia small farmers like Todd Lister and Jay Payne are able to sell fresh vegetables like tomatoes into the winter season. Previously, most crops would have been gone from their fields much sooner.

“If I didn’t have hoop houses, I would be creeping down right at the end of it,” Lister says, referring to the fact that without the hoop houses, he would have harvested all of his produce weeks earlier.

With NRCS’s help, Lister built a high tunnel on his five-acre farm in Washington, Ga., in 2010. Lister grows spinach, kale, lettuce, beets, carrots, eggplants, peppers, flowers and basil.

Payne grows a variety of produce as well, including beans, okra, peas, peppers, potatoes and squash.  He signed up for the High Tunnel Initiative in 2011. The extended growing season has helped his bottom line—especially because he can now sell more produce for longer periods at the Athens Farmers Market. And Payne says he earns 85 to 90 percent of his income from selling at the market. The rest of his income is generated through a Community Supported Agriculture network.

As these two farmers and others continue to use their high tunnels to extend their season, provide more locally grown food to their communities through the Athens Farmers Market and share their knowledge, other growers will learn how they can make their farms more economically viable with help from NRCS.

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Todd Lister examines carrots that he grew in his high tunnel.

Todd Lister examines carrots that he grew in his high tunnel.

3 Responses to “Sustainability Is More Attainable with High Tunnel Initiative”

  1. wayne says:

    Just say NO to GMOs. Short of that: Just Label It!

  2. cs says:

    GMO’s have been harvested from many hundreds of years. All carrots (even ‘organic’), for example, are durived from wild carrot, like queen anne’s lace. The difference now is science can do now in just a few generations what man has been doing since he began farming.

  3. MI Farmer says:

    CS- I’m sorry but you are incorrect about GMO’s. I think you are confusing them with hybrids. GMO’s have only been around for about 30 years. GMO’S mix DNA from plants with DNA of other things like fish. When in the earths history did fish ever breed with corn? You could cross-pollinate two different verities of a crop to produce a hybrid of the two, and you can do it many times over until your blue in the face, and what you produce will still never be a GMO. There is nothing wrong with hybrids, but GMO’s are an abomination.

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