Several Sitka gardeners will be extending their growing seasons this year thanks to a government soil conservation program designed to study the effectiveness of “high tunnels” or “hoop houses” when it comes to growing more local food in a conservation-minded way. To qualify you need to have grown $1,000 worth of produce for two of the past five years, even if just for your family and friends.
The Sitka participants will be constructing the greenhouse-like structures this year, which will enable them to grow more local food. For participating in the study, the government will reimburse them for the cost of the materials. This project is part of a nationwide effort to improve our community food security called “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.” As part of the project, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will conduct a three-year, 38-state study on high tunnels to see if they help reduce pesticide use, extend the growing season, keep vital nutrients in the soil, etc. This YouTube video has more information about the pilot study and shows several smaller family garden-sized high tunnels being placed in the White House garden.
“There is great potential for high tunnels to expand the availability of healthy, locally-grown crops — a win for producers and consumers,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said. “This pilot project is going to give us real-world information that farmers all over the country can use to decide if they want to add high tunnels to their operations. We know that these fixtures can help producers extend their growing season and hopefully add to their bottom line.”
If you meet the requirement, feel free to participate by contacting our local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) agent for Southeast Alaska, Samia Savell in Juneau at 586-7220, or go to http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/. NRCS will fund one high tunnel per qualifying farm, and a high tunnel can cover as much as 5 percent of one acre.
High tunnels have been used successfully in Alaska, including up in Fairbanks where temperatures drop to minus-50. Last September, the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences reported on a two-year project where 39 varieties of apples had been grown in high tunnels at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm. The UAF Cooperative Extension Service also reported on the project (with short videos), and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner also reported on the story.