The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCA) has revamped its cost-sharing program that enables qualifying landowners who produce food to build high tunnels.
High tunnels, also known as hoop houses or temporary greenhouses, extend the growing season so more food is produced before and after the traditional dates for growing stuff outdoors.
High tunnels are different than greenhouses in that they are passively heated by the sun, so they have lower energy costs than greenhouses. High tunnels are at least six-feet tall, and low tunnels aren’t eligible in this program. Food in high tunnels is planted either directly into the ground or in raised beds. To learn more about the USDA’s high tunnel program, click here (note, link is to FY2013 program information, there have been updates for FY2015 but no link was available). This link has frequently asked questions and answers about seasonal high tunnel systems for crops.
This program started a couple of years ago as a pilot program, but now is a permanent part of of the NRCS EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentive Programs). One major change is there now is no size restriction on the size of structures NRCS will provide cost-sharing funds (previously it was limited to up to 2,178 square feet, or 5 percent of one acre). Also, geodesic domes are now eligible. Both the land owner and land must meet certain eligibility requirements. Funding is provided on a reimbursable status once the high tunnel is installed and certified to meet NRCS standards. In previous years only a couple of Sitka residents have taken advantage of the program, but other areas of the state, such as Homer, have built dozens of high tunnels through the program.
For information regarding the NRCS technical service or program participation in Southeast Alaska, please contact Samia Savella at the Juneau field office at (907) 586-7220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications currently are being accepted for the 2015 fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2014, to Sept. 30, 2015) and applications must be received at the Juneau field office on or before June 15, 2014. Click here for a link to the Alaska NRCS page.