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Texas High Tunnels Boost Production Possibilities for Urban Farmers

Elvis d’Agrella visits with some of his regular weekly customers at the Conroe farmers market. Customers are welcome to fill small white buckets with an assortment of fruits and vegetables for an average cost of $4.

Elvis d’Agrella visits with some of his regular weekly customers at the Conroe farmers market. Customers are welcome to fill small white buckets with an assortment of fruits and vegetables for an average cost of $4.

‘Valley Girl’ and ‘Celebrity’ are just two of the sought-after tomato varieties sold at Elvis d’Agrella’s farmer’s market stand in the summer. And now his weekly customers can purchase those tomatoes well into the winter, because he and his wife, Pat, have constructed a seasonal high tunnel at their PEAS Farm outside Conroe, Tex.

“Our goal was to produce as much of the vegetables that you see here growing in the winter time that you would normally see growing in the summertime,” says Elvis.

Fresh, affordable and sustainably grown food is the d’Agrellas’ way of farming and doing business. Their close proximity to the greater Houston area has created a following of customers focused on feeding their families locally grown food. For three years, on their small patch of land, they have grown commercial produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, squash, strawberries, cucumbers, potatoes and peas. They even sell honey gathered from their own hives.

Elvis was searching the Internet one day when he came across the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative. It offers financial assistance to qualified producers for construction of a high tunnel through the agency’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program. He immediately contacted the Houston NRCS field office and after applying, was awarded assistance.

Trey Bethke, NRCS district conservationist, visits with Elvis and Pat d’Agrella about their national Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative EQIP contract.

Trey Bethke, NRCS district conservationist, visits with Elvis and Pat d’Agrella about their national Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative EQIP contract.

“When you think about working with the government, you think of the red tape and it’s going to be a hassle. There was some paperwork, but they walked us through it,” says Pat.

To help reduce production costs, the d’Agrellas put down landscape fabric inside the high tunnel, helping the soil retain moisture and reducing water use. They also installed a drip irrigation system for the plants.

“So we have a significant savings of water that we are realizing. It also reduces our electricity usage pumping all that water,” says Elvis.

Customers and visitors to the PEAS family farm learn quickly upon meeting Elvis and Pat that farming and selling food at the local level is their passion. It can be heard in Elvis’ words as he gives a customer tips for cooking the vegetables. It can be seen on Pat’s face as she talks about the importance of having fresh, affordable food available to everyone. And it can even been seen in the actions of one of the d’Agrellas’ seven granddaughters as she tries to help “PaPa” with a customer at the farmer’s market.

It’s that passion that should carry this farm into this summer—and the ones to come.

A drip irrigation system is used for watering the high tunnel’s plants and optimizes water usage.

A drip irrigation system is used for watering the high tunnel’s plants and optimizes water usage.

2 Responses to “Texas High Tunnels Boost Production Possibilities for Urban Farmers”

  1. Michael Van Winkle says:

    This is exactly the kind of information that I’ve been looking for. This is exactly what I’ve wanted to do! Any more info to assist would be most appreciated! Thank you!!!

  2. Nicole May Kitchens says:

    Michael,
    Visit your local NRCS Office for more information re: Hightunnels. The Soil Conservationist or Soil Conservation technician in your county should be able to better assist you!

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