High tunnels and other season extension tools are becoming a best management practice for growing specialty crops in many regions of the United States. In West Virginia, prior to 2007, this technology had not been encountered or widely adopted by growers. To facilitate the transition from open-field production of fruits and vegetables to protected culture production, a nucleus of twelve season extension educators, including new and experienced growers, extension and USDA personnel was created. Over the course of four years (2008-2012), Dr. Jett and his colleagues trained this diverse group of educators on season extension technology through workshops, field days and other venues. Five hands-on, season extension workshops per year (20 total) were conducted from 2009-2012 in West Virginia, with half of these facilitated by extension educator participants. In addition, six grower-educators who learned through the project became a valuable resource for helping other growers with high tunnels, conducting 2 educational events per year on their farms. Attendance at the project’s season extension educational events totaled more than 500 new and established West Virginia growers. Educational resources including 10 fact sheets and 5 PowerPoint slide sets were created covering the spectrum of issues associated with season extension of specialty crops within high tunnels. An NRCS fact sheet and seven web and press articles were also written. All of the 12 grower and extension educator -participants of the training successfully constructed one or more high tunnels by the end of this training.
Grower and extension educator surveys conducted from 2011-2012 revealed 90% of 92 farmer participants would or have changed production practices based on results from season extension research and outreach. Over 100 high tunnels have been constructed by West Virginia growers since the initiation of this professional development project, and this has significantly increased the supply and diversity of local food in West Virginia. High tunnel construction has increased in West Virginia 15 fold since 2007, from fewer than 20 in 2007 to more than 150 in 2012. In 2012, a survey of 25 farmers’ market vendors revealed approximately 50% use high tunnels for specialty crop production, while a similar 2007 survey of 35 vendors revealed that fewer than 6% used high tunnels. More than 100 West Virginia specialty crop growers have been approved to receive NRCS cost-share funding since 2010, and an additional 50 high tunnels have been constructed since 2006 without cost-share assistance.
Other beneficial outcomes from this program include a Specialty Crop Block Grant for low-cost season extenders, received by one of our collaborators and a grower-educator, that has, to date, constructed 8 high tunnels in southern West Virginia counties. The Farm to School program is blossoming in WV, and all grower-educator collaborators as well as many other high tunnel growers are participating in this program. Partnerships with USDA-NRCS were also created and strengthened through the course of this grant, and District Conservationists are interested in high tunnel production and are seeking training.
The objectives of this project were:
1. Train approximately 10 members of the West Virginia University (WVU) Extension Horticulture Team, 2-3 West Virginia State University (WVSU) extension personnel, and approximately 5 progressive growers from across WV on season extension technology.
2. Given the resources provided over the course of this professional development program, the extension- and grower-educators will conduct and participate in 6 regional workshops or field tours exhibiting and discussing high tunnels and other season extension technology reaching approximately 200 farmers. At least 20 growers (10% adoption rate) will have constructed a high tunnel by the completion of this project as a result of the training received by the extension- and grower- educators.
3. By completion of this professional development project in 2010, all grower-educators will have constructed at least one high tunnel on their respective farms, and an additional 20 high tunnels will be constructed by commercial horticulture crop growers at large in West Virginia as a result of resources derived from this professional development project.
The performance targets for this professional development project were:
A comprehensive survey of extension- and grower- educators at the completion of this project will document the following:
a. Extension- and grower-educators will have a significant increase in knowledge and skills specific to high tunnels and season extension technology when this project is completed in 2010.
b. All extension- and grower-educators will have used information and resources derived from this training program in 6 regional workshops and field tours which they have facilitated or participated.
As a result of this program, approximately 200 West Virginia growers will be exposed to high tunnel technology and at least 20 growers will have adopted this technology on their respective farms by 2010.