Hallie Robinson farms a small piece of land with an enormous amount of energy and excitement. She and her husband, William Robinson, farm three acres of vegetables and raise ducks, geese, goats and cows in Lee County, S.C.
They moved to the farm in 1979, and much of her farm knowledge comes from her great-grandfather, Joe Jenkins, who worked the same land.
She was inspired by his dedication and passion for farming, and she has strived to continue working the land with the conservation ethic that he taught her. She is following his example by farming for a bountiful harvest while ensuring that her impact on natural resources – such as water and soil – is positive, and not harmful.
Robinson joined forces with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help make conservation improvements to the farm, receiving technical and financial assistance to build a seasonal high tunnel.
Seasonal high tunnels are plastic-covered structures that enable farmers to have crops ready earlier or later in the season. In high tunnels, plants are grown directly in the ground, and the sun’s heat regulates the temperature inside.
“The high tunnel is a conservation practice that helps farmers extend their growing season and can improve plant quality and soil health and reduce nutrient and pesticide transportation,” NRCS District Conservationist Lori Bataller said.
Robinson enjoys the new high tunnel, which she said enables her to continue her great-grandfather’s legacy with the help of modern tools. “I am using what he taught me and taking it to a new level with this high tunnel,” she said.
The 2,160-square-foot high tunnel provides significant advantages to owners of small farms, limited resource farmers, and organic producers, because they offer the advantage of year-round crop production, particularly in the relatively mild climate of South Carolina.
High tunnels can also provide protection from wind and rain, which can result in increased crop yields and improved quality as well as decreased pest and disease problems.
The high tunnel also enables her to stave off colder temperatures and occasional snow and ice events. “Eating fresh vegetables all year is a blessing,” she said. “I could never get my stuff this green, or grow it this big, without the high tunnel. I look forward to many years of fresh vegetables.”
High tunnels are a cornerstone of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, which coordinates USDA’s work on local and regional food systems. Since 2009, through NRCS, USDA has provided assistance to help producers construct over 13,000 high tunnels on farms around the country.
Robinson is writing a book about the farm, and she has kept a photo album documenting the raising of the high tunnel from start to finish. And she loves to show visitors the fruits of her labors inside the tunnel, which is teeming with an abundance and diversity of crops, including watermelons, herbs, cucumbers, peppers, sunflowers and more.
“I felt that if my great-grandfather had known about these structures, he would have seized the opportunity to use it as a way to extend his season too,” she said.
He was her hero. “He had limited education and could not read or write, but he had wit and wisdom,” she said. “He provided a living for his family by working as a sharecropper, and he saved his wages to buy farming equipment and this farm.”
Mrs. Robinson’s great-grandfather farmed until 1960 and passed away years ago at the age of 90, but his presence and his lasting influence can be felt on the farm, she said. “I hope that the next generation will continue his legacy, and maybe do something different or improve things, like I’m trying to do here,” she said.