- Vegetables: greens (leafy), greens (lettuces)
- Crop Production: season extension types and construction, varieties and cultivars
- Energy: solar energy
Improving Winter Greens Production and Storage for Cold Climate Farmers is a three year project designed to provide Northern US growers with profitable solutions for winter production challenges and to provide their communities with nutritious local food year round. Western Montana and regions with similar plant hardiness zones currently face limited options for fresh produce in the winter months. Greens available in our stores and restaurants have traveled many miles and many days, resulting in low quality food with no economic benefit to the local community. On the other side of the equation, most vegetable producers in Montana have the infrastructure but lack the knowledge and technology necessary to successfully grow year-round, and their businesses suffer seasonal gaps in farm income starting soon after field crops freeze.
This project will research and train farmers in cost-effective methods of high tunnel ventilation, efficient passive solar heating, high-yielding and cold-hardy salad greens varieties, and optimal storage practices. Missoula Grain and Vegetable Co., LLC will be constructing four mobile passive solar tunnels to test alongside two stationary high tunnels at the farm as well as two tunnels at the nearby research center. We will erect a weather station on the farm, add temperature and humidity sensors to all tunnels, and install automatic ventilation systems to test out how to most efficiently respond to weather conditions without jeopardizing crop survival. Finally we will be exploring ways to make winter-produced crops last longer in storage including: harvesting whole plants, testing washing procedures, and tracking the effects of storage temperatures and humidity. All results will be made available online and shared at farm tours, conferences around the state, and on-farm workshops. Researching and sharing improved methods of efficient winter growing and storage will increase adoption and success of year-round production enterprises among cold-climate vegetable farmers.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Strengthen the competitiveness of Montana vegetable farms by researching improvements to the production and profitability of winter-grown greens. To measure this goal, we will track input and yield data from multiple high tunnel systems and variety trials. After presenting this information in workshops, farm tours, and at conferences, we will use surveys to determine its value to participating farmers and to identify additional areas of need.
- Improve efficiency of high tunnel ventilation and crop frost protection, conserving fossil fuel and labor resources. Measured by tracking energy use, labor costs, and yields for our 8 high tunnel systems and comparing the results between multiple methods and technologies. Results will be shared with other growers at tours, workshops, conferences, and in published articles.
- Enhance quality of life for farmers by demonstrating lucrative opportunities for winter farm income. This goal will be measured by tracking profits and progress towards less expensive inputs, shorter working hours, and additional staffing at the farm. We will measure increased awareness of strategies for producing and storing high-value winter greens through surveys for tour and workshop participants.
- Provide local consumers with fresh, local produce year round. Measured through leaf tissue analysis of winter-produced greens under different storage conditions and duration.