• USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service offers cost-share program for high tunnels

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCA) is offering a cost-sharing program that enables qualifying landowners who produce food to build high tunnels.

High tunnels, also known as hoop houses or temporary greenhouses, can help extend the growing season at both the start and end of the season so more food is produced.

High tunnels are different than greenhouses in that they are passively heated by the sun, so they have lower energy costs than greenhouses. 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. This link has frequently asked questions and answers.

NRCS will provide cost-sharing funds on structures up to 2,178 square feet (5 percent of one acre). 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.

For information regarding the NRCS technical service or program participation in Southeast Alaska, please contact the Juneau field office at (907) 586-7220 or samia.savell@ak.usda.gov. Applications currently are being accepted for the 2013 fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2013) and applications must be received at the Juneau field office on or before June 15, 2012. For contact info to other Alaska field offices, click this link.

• Press release about the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service high tunnel cost-sharing program

• FAQs about the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service high tunnel cost-sharing program

• Informational handout about the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service high tunnel cost-sharing program

• Sitka gardeners extend growing seasons with government pilot study on high tunnels

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.

• Baranof Elementary students dig up potatoes and other local food stories in the news

Daily Sitka Sentinel screenshot of Baranof Elementary School student picking potatoes

Daily Sitka Sentinel screenshot of Baranof Elementary School student picking potatoes

Monday’s edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel features a photo of Baranof Elementary School first-grader Keaton Kelling, 7, holding up a couple of potatoes he dug up from the Russian Bishop’s House garden on Thursday. First-grade students from Baranof Elementary harvested crops of peas, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables they planted last spring when they were kindergarten students. Most crops did well this year. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Monday's picking potatoes photo from the Daily Sitka Sentinel

Monday's picking potatoes photo from the Daily Sitka Sentinel

There were several other local food stories in Alaska newspapers over the weekend. Here’s a quick rundown.

Click here to read a story from Sunday’s Juneau Empire that features an Alaskanized version of a recipe for “salmon maritako,” a stew made by Spanish fishermen. The article is by Ginny Mahar, a chef at Rainbow Foods who also writes the Food-G blog. Many of the recipes Ginny posts on her blog include local, Southeast Alaska ingredients.

Click here to read an article from Sunday’s Fairbanks Daily News-Miner about a University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service project at the Fairbanks Experimental Farm where they are using high-tunnel greenhouses to grow more apples and berries in northern climates. Click here to go directly to the UAF Cooperative Extension Service project page.

Click here to read Wednesday’s Anchorage Daily News gardening column by Jeff Lowenfels about now being the time to prepare plants for winter. Most of the column deals with flowers, but he does have some info about preparing tomato plants for the winter at the end of the column.

Click here to read an Associated Press story posted on the Anchorage Daily News Web site on Monday about how hoop houses (a low-cost type of greenhouse that uses plastic on a frame) are extending the growing season for urban farmers in northern climates. The version of the story on the ADN site didn’t have any photos of the hoop houses, so click here to see a version with photos.

Click here to read a transcript from National Public Radio of a story about two Walmart truckers who drive 2,600 miles one way from an Oregon warehouse to Alaska each week to deliver produce to Alaska stores. That’s a long way to transport a piece of lettuce or a carrot we can grow in Alaska, and that distance doesn’t include how far the produce had to travel to get to the Oregon warehouse before being trucked to Alaska. The story originated from the Alaska Public Radio Network, which has the story in streaming audio on its site.

Finally, click here for a humorous column from the July 2009 Field and Stream by Scott Bestul comparing the taste of Grade A Choice Holstein beef vs. wild venison when both are prepared the same way. This isn’t really a local story, but deer hunting season is coming soon in Southeast Alaska.