Mildred Griggs, of Marianna, Ark., wasn’t looking for bragging rights when she installed her new seasonal high tunnel, last year, but that’s what she earned this spring after harvesting her first winter vegetable crop.
“We had the best salad green mix in the region,” says Griggs.
With the high tunnel, Griggs was able to extend her fall growing season of fresh produce into the winter months. Her harvest included lettuce, spinach, beets, carrots and greens.
“Some of this goes to the community, some is sold, and some of it we process for ourselves to eat,” she says.
Griggs’ property has been in the family since 1923, when cotton was the cash crop. But the family also worked to sustain their local community by giving fruits and vegetables from their orchards and garden to those in need. Griggs continues that tradition today.
The high tunnel was made possible in part to financial assistance she received from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, through the USDA StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity. The initiative addresses high-priority funding and technical assistance needs in rural communities in 16 states, including Arkansas, with an emphasis on historically underserved communities in rural counties with persistent poverty.
“I’m certain that we would not have had the seasonal high tunnel had it not been for StrikeForce and the meetings that were arranged from different representatives of USDA agencies through the state,” Griggs says.
StrikeForce uses community outreach meetings to inform attendees about USDA Farm Bill programs.
Derinda Smith, NRCS district conservationist in Marianna, has been a part of these outreach efforts.
“The USDA StrikeForce Initiative has afforded some of the smaller alternative crop producers to be eligible to grow their crops under the seasonal high tunnel,” Smith says, who has worked closely with Griggs throughout the application and installation process.
The two women have also worked on implementing water and soil resource conservation practices under the tunnel. For instance, Griggs now waters each plant via drip or micro-irrigation lines, which results in water use efficiency.
“She’s done a really great job with this seasonal high tunnel. She’s made it work for her and the community and that’s a really, really nice thing for her to do,” Smith adds.