Innovative Farmers Educate Agency Personnel about Managing High Tunnels

Final Report for ENE04-082

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2004: $76,830.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $10,900.00
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Billie Best
Regional Farm & Food Project
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Project Information

Summary:

High tunnels are unheated or minimally heated passive solar structures that offer farmers an inexpensive means to extend the season and intensify production, tap markets which are hungry for local product, and become more profitable without environmentally damaging practices. This project, which began as a two-year project in 2004 and has been extended for a third year, until December 31, 2007, will educate extension educators and agricultural developers about the real world uses of these structures and provide them with comprehensive teaching resources to enable them to realistically advise their farmer audiences.

A 45-minute DVD video was created to present case studies of six farms, highlighting the use of these structures for producing greens, mixed vegetables, tomatoes, cut flowers, and fruit. Viewers (including Extension and other educators) learned about management systems, seasonality of use, start-up and construction experiences, marketing issues, economics, and farmers' lessons and motivations.

A companion manual was published on-line that included case studies and enterprise budgets for six farms, and information on site considerations, selecting a structure, construction tips, and management considerations. It also contained an annotated supplier and equipment list.

Two farm tours, including 5 farms, were presented in 2006, one in June and one in November. The tours were very successful, attended by more than 100 people, including agency personnel and farmers.

More than one hundred Extension and other educators used the DVD and/or manual in their work with farmers and others. Several used the DVD in grower meetings and other presentations to farmers. Others added the materials to farmer lending libraries. Some educators used the materials as teaching aids in undergraduate curricula.

Performance Target:

Original project objective:
85 agricultural educators and agency personnel will use the project curriculum in programs and consultations which will reach 1,000 farmers, at least 200 of whom will implement at least one new season extension practice. Ten individuals will take additional initiative to promote high tunnels, such as organizing a farm tour or undertaking a research project. Additionally, hundreds more agency educators will be reached via mail distribution of the DVD and printed manual.

Introduction:

Efficient, passive solar structures such as high and walking tunnels offer farmers an inexpensive means to extend the season and intensify production, tap markets that are hungry for local product, and become more profitable without environmentally damaging practices.

As agriculture promoters and champions of local farms campaign for eating regionally and seasonally, the interest in buying and consuming fresh produce grown by area farmers throughout the year has increased. At the same time that in the Northeast demand is mounting for local alternatives to southern, western, and imported Third World products, and increasing prices for natural gas and petroleum are making heated growing structures a more costly proposition than ever.

Our informal survey finds that exceedingly few farms significantly extend the growing season with the use of the unheated or minimally heated passive solar structures (i.e., high tunnels) that are the subject of this project. Indeed, the information and resources on how to make this a profitable, productive, and sustainable commercial enterprise has not been packaged to make this a readily doable proposition.

Yet farmers' interest in two oversubscribed three-day workshops on the subject organized by the Regional Farm & Food Project in 2001 and 2002 (for 60-70 farmers each) demonstrates the thirst for knowledge about high tunnels. Other workshop organizers report similar demand.

Many agricultural educators and service providers have limited familiarity with the high tunnel growing systems pioneered by innovative farmers. Without readily available models, farmers are reinventing the wheel and sometimes making investments or chasing after markets that will not pay back.

The goal of this project was to educate extension and other agricultural professionals, including agricultural economic developers and farmers market administrators, about effective real world uses of these structures. By providing them with tools (a training video and companion manual), and direct exposure to farmer innovators and the systems they use (through two farm tours), we will have enabled agricultural educators and developers to realistically promote a viable sustainable agriculture approach to their farmer audiences.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Ted Blomgren
  • Tracy Frisch

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

The project co-coordinators spoke with 15 agricultural educators and researchers, and 10 farmers employing high tunnels to elicit recommendations for project scope and design. The project plan was to identify six farms successful in using high tunnel growing methods, document their success in the DVD video and training manual, and distribute those educational materials to ag educators in Cooperative Extension throughout the Northeast.

Project staff and consultants spent 2005 documenting the use of high tunnels by the farmer cooperators chosen to share their expertise with the project. They filmed six farms, and completed editing the sequences for the first five farms. They developed the outline for the decision-making manual, began writing the manual, and undertook much of the research needed to produce it.

In 2006, project staff and consultants continued their work editing the video and writing the training manual, designing the DVD packaging, developing technical drawings, appendices, and other content for the manual. To inform and augment that effort, two farm tours were held to demonstrate high tunnels at five farms in New York and Massachusetts.

The video and manual were completed by personnel at the University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture. There, they were publicized and distributed.

June 8, 2006 Farm Tour Press Release
High Tunnel Tour
Three Farms in Eastern New York
June 8, 2006, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm

Innovative Farmers Educate Agency Personnel and Other Farmers about the Design and Management of High Tunnels

High tunnels are greenhouse-like structures that offer farmers an inexpensive means to extend the growing and marketing seasons, intensify production, and reduce weather-related risk. Learn how a handful of experienced farmers use these cost-effective structures to grow early tomatoes, cucumbers, salad greens, cut flowers and a wide range of fall and winter salad crops. For the past year and a half, a Northeast SARE project, sponsored by the Regional Farm & Food Project, has been documenting how innovative farmers in four states are using high tunnels to enhance their enterprises.

On Thursday, June 8, 2006, from 10 AM until 3 PM, a free tour is offered to educate extension educators, researchers, agricultural marketers, farmers’ market managers, and other agricultural service providers as well as farmers about the real world uses and designs of high tunnels. The tour will visit three farms in southern Washington County. The first stop, Windflower Farm, in Easton, is 30 miles northeast of Albany, NY. The final stop, Slack Hollow Farm, in Argyle, is 25 miles farther north, and the second farm, New Minglewood Farm, in Greenwich, is located in between.

This free tour, sponsored by the Regional Farm & Food Project and Cornell Cooperative Extension, is made possible by a grant from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. A video featuring case studies of high tunnels on six farms and a high tunnel decision-making manual will be released in early summer.

A delicious catered three-course lunch will be available for $12 if you RSVP by June 5 or $15 at the tour, quantities permitting. To make reservations, please call Carol McDonald at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County at 518-272-4210. Or email Ted Blomgren at tab17@cornell.edu.

Tour Itinerary:

10:00 Windflower Farm
Jan and Ted Blomgren have been growing cut flowers and vegetables in high tunnels in Easton, NY since 2001. They operate a New York City-based CSA with about 450 member households, and they utilize their tunnels both to extend the season and to reduce weather-related risks. In the spring they use their tunnels for cut flowers, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and early greens. In the fall and winter they use their tunnels exclusively for salad greens. They use a combination of structures, including 30 X 144’ tunnels made by Ledgewood Greenhouses and several home made “walk-in” tunnels measuring 15’ X 200’. The Blomgrens learned about walk-in tunnels from a book by Eliot Coleman in which he described some of the tunnels he saw on a trip through Europe. After years of trial and error, they have learned how to get the most from these simple tunnels.

11:30 New Minglewood Farm
In Greenwich, NY, Chris Lincoln and his wife Tammara Van Ryn run New Minglewood Farm, an organic market garden selling at the Saratoga Farmers Market and to restaurants. In 2005, his seventh year farming, he grossed $80,000 on his two acres of intensive vegetable production and several greenhouses and high tunnels. This will be his third year raising heirloom tomatoes in four 10 x 100 ft. high tunnels; these are temporary, low tech, low cost structures which produced yields and quality far superior to his previous outdoor crops. He has added another one of these simple tunnels for growing early lettuce. He uses a 14 x 92 ft. Quonset style field house he to grow baby spinach and a variety of baby greens in ground from early spring through late fall. Come summer, with shade cloth on top, vented sides, and open ends, this high tunnel ensures better germination and weed control, slightly cooler temperatures, and easy watering.

12:30 Lunch

1:45 Slack Hollow Farm
Seth Jacobs and Martha Johnson started Slack Hollow Farm in Argyle, NY twenty-five years ago. Their markets include a local food coop and two farmers’ markets that remain open throughout the winter. They use two high tunnels to grow salad greens for winter markets. One of their tunnels is a 27 X 144’ Ledgewood Greenhouse. In this structure they utilize a two-crop rotation in which they grow tomatoes from early May through early October, and spinach from mid-October through the end of April. This structure is unheated, and ventilated by means of roll-up sides. Seth and Martha have been growing spinach during the winter for four years, and have developed a system that works well for them. They constructed a 30 X 144’ Rimol Greenhouse in 2004. Unlike their first high tunnel, which they built themselves from a kit, they had this one built by professional contractors. For ventilation, they outfitted the structure with thermostatically controlled automatic roll-up curtains and gable-end vents. They used a heavy, 25-year fabric on the end-walls and roll-ups, and a double layer of plastic for a cover. They also installed a heating system in which in-ground heat tubes circulate hot water to warm the soil and root zone. They use this structure to grow an impressive variety of cold-hardy greens, along with radishes, turnips, and beets.

3:00 Adjourn

Directions to Windflower Farm:
From the south (Albany). Take 787 north to Route 7. Take Route 7 east toward Troy. Take Route 40 north (this is a left at second light after crossing Hudson River) for about 17 miles. Turn right onto Meeting House Road (intersects with Route 40 about 6 miles north of the Schaghticoke Fairgrounds). The road forks in approximately 1.5 miles. Take the left fork onto the gravel road. Continue to stop sign in about 1 mile. Continue straight for another 1/4 mile to first house (blue house, #585) on left.
From the north and west (Saratoga Springs). Take Route 29 east from Saratoga Springs to Route 40 south in Middle Falls (Greenwich). Take 40 south for about 5 miles. Turn left onto Meeting House Road. The road forks in approximately 1.5 miles. Take the left fork onto the gravel road. Continue to stop sign in about 1 mile. Continue straight for another 1/4 mile to first house (blue house, #585) on left.

From the east (Massachusetts Turnpike). Take the Turnpike to Route 90 west. Take 90 west to Albany. In Albany, take 787 north to Route 7. Take Route 7 east toward Troy. Take Route 40 north (this is a left at second light after crossing Hudson River) for about 17 miles. Turn right onto Meeting House Road (intersects with Route 40 about 6 miles north of the Schaghticoke Fairgrounds). The road forks in approximately 1.5 miles. Take the left fork onto the gravel road. Continue to stop sign in about 1 mile. Continue straight for another 1/4 mile to first house (blue house, #585) on left.

November 8, 2006 Farm Tour Press Release

Tour Two Farms in Massachusetts
Innovative Farmers Educate Agency Personnel and Other Farmers
About the Design and Management of High Tunnels

Wednesday, November 8, 2006, 12:00 noon to 3:30 pm
To register in advance call 518-271-0744.

High tunnels are greenhouse-like structures that offer farmers an inexpensive means to extend growing and marketing seasons, intensify production, and reduce weather-related risk. Learn how a handful of experienced farmers use these cost-effective structures to grow early tomatoes, cucumbers, salad greens, cut flowers and a wide range of fall and winter salad crops. For the past year and a half, our Northeast SARE project has been documenting how innovative farmers in four states are using high tunnels to enhance their enterprises.

On Wednesday, November 8, 2006, from 12:00 noon until 3:30 PM, a free tour is offered to educate extension educators, researchers, agricultural marketers, farmers’ market managers, and other agricultural service providers, as well as farmers, about the real world uses and designs of high tunnels. The tour will visit two farms in Massachusetts' Pioneer Valley — Red Fire Farm in Southern Hampshire County, and the Hampshire College Farm located on the Hampshire College campus in Amherst. There is a half hour drive between the two stops.

This tour, sponsored by the Regional Farm & Food Project, is made possible by a grant from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. A DVD video featuring case studies of high tunnels on six farms, and a high tunnel decision-making manual will be released by the Regional Farm & Food Project at the end of November.

Reservations are strongly encouraged. Please contact Billie Best at 518-271-0744 or billie@farmandfood.org. Please bring a bag lunch or eat prior to the tour. Dress for the outdoors as part of the presentation at our first stop will be in an unheated barn. Directions are below.

Tour Itinerary

12:00 Noon Red Fire Farm

Ryan Voiland grows 25 acres of certified organic vegetables on the 50-acre farm he purchased in Granby, Massachusetts, in 2001. The harvest supplies the farm's 400 share CSA and its two farmstands. Red Fire Farm also sells to local wholesale accounts and at a weekly farmers' market.

Ryan has been using high tunnels of one sort or another for over ten years. He has experimented with a variety of structures, crops and growing systems. Current high tunnel production at Red Fire Farm includes summer tomatoes, early spring carrots, and winter salad greens, baby bok choy, and spinach.

This fall Ryan will be moving and reconfiguring some of the farm's tunnels. Some are low tech, inexpensive "walk-in" tunnels. These are 10 feet wide and 150 to 200 feet long, quickly assembled with PVC pipes skinned with polyethylene film.

The farm has several more permanent hoop houses with metal greenhouse frames: The 35’ x 120’ Harnois has a ridge vent and ground heat. There are two Ledgewood frames: 25’ x 120’ and 20’ x 30’, and the farm will be constructing a third – 25’ x 120’ structure this fall. All of the larger tunnels have propane heat, although heat is not used in all cropping sequences.

Attendees will learn about Red Fire Farm's high tunnel operations in all seasons by visiting the structures, watching a PowerPoint presentation, and talking to the farmer.

1:30 pm Depart from Red Fire Farm

2:00 pm Hampshire College Farm

Nancy Hanson farms on the Hampshire College campus for students, faculty, and other staff as a salaried employee of the college. She operates a 200 member CSA from late August to Thanksgiving.

She also sells wildly popular bagged winter salad greens directly to members of the college community from late December until the first week of May, with a several week break in January. She seeds the greens from October to mid December. Nancy says people line up to buy these out of season greens. "I know I could sell as much as we could grow."

Nancy first embarked on winter growing when a student constructed a small PVC-rebar tunnel for a research project. Two years ago, with a grant from the Vervane Foundation, she was able to purchase and erect a 30’ x 96’ Griffin gothic greenhouse for her winter growing enterprise. As she commutes a distance to the farm, she opted for automatic systems, such as a ridge vent, so the tunnel "doesn't need to be babysat." This year, she will use propane heat for the first time in order to maintain the tunnel just above 32 degrees. In the past, she paid students to apply and remove row cover to protect the crops from freezing.

At the tour, Nancy will provide a primer on winter growing. She will share her data on planting dates, yields, and varieties, and will explain how she adapted Eliot Coleman's growing techniques to her operation.

3:30 pm Adjourn

Directions to Red Fire Farm
From Route 116 take Amherst Street to Route 202. Turn left onto Route 202 North. From Route 202 North go through Granby Center and take a right onto Taylor Street. Turn left at the first stop sign onto what continues to be Taylor Street. Turn left again at the next stop sign onto Carver Street. Red Fire Farm will be on your left. From Route 202 South turn left onto School Street. Follow School Street, which becomes Chicopee Street, until it merges with Carver Street. Bear right onto Carver and the farm will soon be on the right.

From the Mass Pike take Exit 6 and turn right at the light after exiting the
toll booth. This is Burnett Road, which will become Holyoke Street. Stay on this for about 2 miles. Take a left onto West Street. (It's the second light you come to, there is a Mobil on your left). Follow West Street for about 3 miles. Turn right onto Brook Street. This becomes Taylor Street. At the stop sign go right onto Carver Street and look for the farm on your left.

Directions from Red Fire Farm to Hampshire College Farm
Take a right onto Carver Street, which becomes Taylor Street. At next intersection, take a right to continue on Taylor Street. Take a left on Route 202. Take a right on Porter Street (there should be a sign for Route 116). Bear left on Aldrich Street. Take a right on Amherst Street. Take a right on Route 116. Continue past Atkins Farm Market. Turn left into the main entrance to Hampshire College. At the stop sign take a right. Turn into the second parking lot on the right. The greenhouse will be on your right.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
Accomplishments:

Publications

We exceeded our expectations of the number of farmers and professionals that would request and view the video and on-line manual. 169 people requested the video: of those 103 were Extension and other educators, 22 were farmers and the remainder (44) were other or not identified.
At least 139 individuals accessed the guide on-line. Of those, 45% (62) were Extension and/or other educators.

Evaluations of the DVD were completed by 12 individuals (6 Extension and agency personnel and 6 others). Of those, 100% said the content improved their understanding of using high tunnels for crop production. 100% rated the quality of the DVD as excellent or good. 100% said it will improve the advice they give to others about high tunnels
Feedback included the following:
"I wish more of my producers use the internet. I plan to show the movie and then offer printed copies of the individual manual sections by request."
"The detailed information contained in the manual was much more helpful than the video. Construction, renting and production information was more thorough in the manual. The video is a nice adjunct, but the manual is a necessity."
"High quality video production. Good array of crops. Good grower presentations. Music not my personal choice, but not annoying."

Two farm tours, including five farms, were conducted in 2006, one in June and one in November. The tours were very successful, attended by more than 100 people, including agency personnel and farmers. All who attended the farm tours were invited to sign-up to receive the DVD and training manual. Educators and farmers who attended the farm tours, watch the DVD and read the training manual will have significant experience, expertise and resources to accomplish their high tunnels objectives.

Two farm tours, including five farms, were conducted in 2006, one in June and one in November. The tours were very successful, attended by more than 100 people, including agency personnel and farmers. They were deemed successful in that they were well attended, the farmer innovations being demonstrated met with great interest from attendees, and the farmers were good teachers.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

Videos were distributed to 169 people in 17 states; of those 103 were Extension and other educators, 22 were farmers and the remainder (44) were other or not identified.

At least 139 individuals accessed the guide on-line. Of those, 45% (62) were Extension and/or other educators.

Two farm tours, including five farms, were conducted in 2006, one in June and one in November. The tours were very successful, attended by more than 100 people, including agency personnel and farmers. All who attended the farm tours were invited to sign-up to receive the DVD and training manual. Educators and farmers who attended the farm tours, watch the DVD and read the training manual will have significant experience, expertise and resources to accomplish their high tunnels objectives.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

We exceeded our expectations of the number of farmers and professionals that would request and view the video and on-line manual. 169 people requested the video: of those 103 were Extension and other educators, 22 were farmers and the remainder (44) were other or not identified.
At least 139 individuals accessed the guide on-line. Of those, 45% (62) were Extension and/or other educators.

Evaluations of the DVD were completed by 12 individuals (6 Extension and agency personnel and 6 others). Of those, 100% said the content improved their understanding of using high tunnels for crop production. 100% rated the quality of the DVD as excellent or good. 100% said it will improve the advice they give to others about high tunnels
Feedback included the following:
"I wish more of my producers use the internet. I plan to show the movie and then offer printed copies of the individual manual sections by request."
"The detailed information contained in the manual was much more helpful than the video. Construction, renting and production information was more thorough in the manual. The video is a nice adjunct, but the manual is a necessity."
"High quality video production. Good array of crops. Good grower presentations. Music not my personal choice, but not annoying."

Two farm tours, including five farms, were conducted in 2006, one in June and one in November. The tours were very successful, attended by more than 100 people, including agency personnel and farmers. All who attended the farm tours were invited to sign-up to receive the DVD and training manual. Educators and farmers who attended the farm tours, watch the DVD and read the training manual will have significant experience, expertise and resources to accomplish their high tunnels objectives.

Two farm tours, including five farms, were conducted in 2006, one in June and one in November. The tours were very successful, attended by more than 100 people, including agency personnel and farmers. They were deemed successful in that they were well attended, the farmer innovations being demonstrated met with great interest from attendees, and the farmers were good teachers.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

Improved Farm Viability

Those of us working on this project have our own theories about the long-term contributions the project will have for farm profitability, environmental stewardship, and stronger communities. We believe extending the season using low-carbon technologies has great potential to contribute to the farm’s bottom line, increase the diversity of local food products in the marketplace, reduce fossil fuel consumption on the farm, build a stronger local agriculture economy, and weave the fabric of community-based food systems. However, it will be in the final year of the project, when the educational materials are in the field, and our follow-up survey is accomplished that we will have the data to validate (hopefully) our theories about why this is such important work.

Future Recommendations

Observations about project design

Our project had to be extended for one year under tight budget constraints because we did not allow enough time to complete the work, and we did not break out the assessment phase of the project in a separate section of the budget. The project was to find the farms for the case studies (first growing season), shoot the video of each farm during the growing season (second growing season), produce and distribute the materials, and then follow-up with an impact analysis (third growing season). If we had measured the length of the project in growing seasons, we would have made it a three-year project.

Likewise, if the third year of the project was planned for promotion and distribution of the educational materials and assessment of their impact, then that third phase of the project would have had its own budget, separate from the research, development and production of the DVD and manual. Additionally, typical video production budgets are divided into the three phases of the process: pre-production, production and post-production. If the project budget had been divided into similar phases, it might have given the team a better sense of both expenses and time required to accomplish tasks.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.