This project serves New England farmers who are responding to the steadily expanding public desire for year-round access to local food. The project builds upon successful innovations in cold-season growing, and will focus on aspects of production and storage that need further development to strengthen this aspect of the regional food system. Low tunnels protect cold-hardy crops through the winter for early spring harvest at a fraction of the cost of high tunnels. Growers and researchers in NH, MA and neighboring states will explore low tunnel growing methods for onions, spinach, and Brassicas in six locations over three winters. The project team will work directly with farmers to improve winter storage capacity for fall-harvested vegetable crops by combining existing knowledge of post-harvest physiology with low-cost, energy-efficient designs. We will research varieties, harvest dates, post-harvest handling and storage methods using carrots as a model crop for long-term storage. Two local food organizations, CISA in western MA and Seacoast Eat Local in eastern NH, will organize winter farmers markets to link farmers and the public as well as evaluate farmer and consumer needs. A lively exchange of knowledge among farmers will be supported through workshops, farm tours and learning networks. Farmers have committed to participating and serving on an advisory committee to guide the project.
Performance targets from proposal:
This project will serve vegetable farmers who are responding to rapidly growing demand for locally grown food year-round. These farmers sell direct to customers and wholesale to other farms, schools, coops, and supermarkets. We will reach over 1,000 farmers through publications, and over 400 growers through direct contact in workshops, farmer networks and on-farm trials. The targeted audience needs new knowledge to increase production of crops for storage, efficiently meet crop storage needs, and use protective structures to extend the harvest season of field crops. By expanding harvests and sales in December-April, they will increase winter income, keep year-round employees, and help build regional food self-sufficiency.
Performance Target: 75 vegetable growers in New England increase their annual income from sales of vegetable crops during the months of December through April, by an average $6750 per farm. This will be accomplished through extending their production and harvest season or through expanding successful storage of fall-harvested crops, or both.