High Desert High Tunnels

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2015: $5,183.00
Projected End Date: 11/10/2017
Grant Recipient: Locavore Farms
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Laurie Wayne
Locavore Farms

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: high tunnels or hoop houses

    Proposal summary:

    High tunnels are unheated plastic-covered greenhouses that can help producers improve the profitability and productivity of their farms. This project proposes to support the use of high tunnels in Modoc County, California and surrounding areas. The main objectives of the project are to create a clearinghouse for regionally specific information about successful high tunnel ownership and use; to facilitate peer to peer technical assistance on topics ranging from selection and installation to pest management and marketing; and to measure the impact of a producer-driven users group on the success of high tunnel users. The producers who would be served by this project live and work in the Great Basin on what is sometimes referred to as the Sagebrush Steppe. Farms and towns are generally situated on land that is between 3,800 and 4,800 feet above sea level. The region gets about 15 inches of rain a year. Sagebrush and other scrub dot the landscape, and those who venture just a few miles from home may be rewarded with sightings of antelope, sage grouse, bighorn sheep, or wild horses. The area is dry and windy all year round with winters that can bring temperatures well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. The summer sun, while intense, does not usually bring temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, thanks to the northern latitude and the relatively high elevation. It can snow or freeze at any time of the year. The climate is well suited to forage production and grazing when water can be found. This area, like the rest of the western United States, is experiencing a prolonged and severe drought. Producing food crops in this region's unpredictable environment can be difficult and risky. A growing number of small farmers are finding increased success through the use of high tunnels here, as in the rest of the country. The population in our area is geographically dispersed, so most producers using them are isolated from or unaware of other high tunnel users. This is the opportunity on which our project is based. The increasing number of high tunnel users in our region represents an untapped source of knowledge and experience. The Farm Advisor position in our area's Cooperative Extension office is vacant and there is not a plan to replace that position with another crop-focused agricultural advisor. We are well over 100 miles from any significant food production or transportation locations, which weakens our community's food security in case of supply disruption such as natural disaster or even a sudden increase in the price of fuel. We believe that this project will help mitigate these challenges while contributing to a general body of expertise in the use of high tunnels. Because of the quality and level of their support for high tunnels and other practices, our local Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office is a bright spot in what may sometimes seem a bleak picture for producers. There are several dozen pending applications for the NRCS high tunnel cost share program in our area, and NRCS staff resources are stretched thin. The NRCS District Conservationist has agreed to be the technical advisor for this project in order to support producers' desire to help their own and others' operations be more productive and profitable. We believe that the high tunnel users group will be a good fit for our area, which is characterized by conservative and independent thinking. Face to face communication is still considered the preferred means of getting information, and many producers are reluctant to change their methods much without seeing some hard evidence of potential benefit first hand. We believe that the planned quarterly users group meetings will give producers a chance to visit with each other and see successes or failures. This will provide an effective, cooperative, and culturally appropriate learning environment. The fact that meeting content and all other aspects of the group will be producer-driven may also motivate potential group members to participate. As useful as we think structured in-person meetings will be, much of the value of the users group will be online, in print, and informal. We will build an Internet presence that includes a web site, mailing list, and social media, which will allow members of the users group to access the right information or make the right connections when they are most needed. The quarterly newsletter will be mailed on request and serve as a physical reminder of the resources available to users. Members of the users group will be able to ask for advice, physical help, resources, and references using their preferred mode of communication – paper, electronic, or in person. This project will track and document activity of the users group as well as partnerships and networking that occur as a result of participation. The qualitative and quantitative data gathered throughout the project will inform interim and final SARE reports and will be made available to the users group members to guide their collective and individual decision making processes.

    Project objectives from proposal:


      1. To research best practices for the use of high tunnels in Modoc County, California and surrounding areas by identifying at least seven producers in the two year project period who have increased yield or improved management through the use of high tunnels and asking them to document and present their strategies.


      1. To encourage the use of best practices through electronic and in-person information sharing in a producer-driven users group meeting held quarterly over two years.


      1. To document and report on the scope and characteristics of networking and partnerships created in the producers' community as a result of participation in the users group.


      1. To quantify the impact that the adoption of best practices has on producers' harvest, season length, and economic success via surveys, questionnaires, and continued participation in the users group.



    We will accomplish these objectives by centering efforts on a high tunnel users group. Within the first two months of the project period, we will create the group. With the assistance of our NRCS technical advisor, informal networks in the area, and print and electronic media, we will locate existing high tunnel users and invite them to participate in the group's formation. A board made up of current and potential high tunnel users will be elected to assign roles and supervise tasks associated with running the group. They will also select meeting locations, topics, and presenters.


    The first users group meeting will be held in June, 2015, and in-person meetings will continue quarterly into the spring of 2017. Meetings will include networking and presentations that address topics which are seasonally focused and responsive to the needs and requests of group members. When practical, meetings will be held at the location of a chosen member's working high tunnel operation, so that the meetings will also have the impact of a hands-on field day where users can ask questions and see techniques in use.


    In addition to the in-person meetings, the users group will be supported by a rich community resource that members and the public may access as needed. This will consist of an online presence that includes a web site, social media, and an email list to which users can subscribe or contribute at any time. The users will also benefit from a quarterly newsletter which will be available in electronic or paper form.


    We will use the Western SARE Program Outreach Survey at each in-person meeting. We will include short polls and surveys in our newsletter that will solicit questions and suggestions as well as gathering and evaluating performance measures associated with practice adoption. Poll and survey results will be shared with the users group and included in the SARE final report.

    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.