May 28, 2020
Fighting Hunger With High Tunnels: How Indoor Growing Can Alleviate Food Insecurity
Did you know that, and an average day, food insecurity is a problem faced by roughly 1 in 9 Americans?
Food insecurity, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, refers to the lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. For many people across the country, this means living without access to a source of fresh, healthy, and affordable locally-grown crops to add to their diet.
As the COVID-19 crisis also shows us, even individuals who normally have access to fresh crops from local supermarkets or farmer’s markets may not always be able to count on such easy access—especially in the face of major disruptions to shipping and food delivery. That’s why many individuals living in quarantine also find themselves facing food insecurity, some for the first time in their lives.
However, as agricultural technologies continue to grow and evolve, so too does the hope of bringing accessible produce to individuals and communities that might be without it today. Greenhouses and high tunnels may be among the most viable strategies to minimize food insecurity in at-risk communities, and maximize access to fresh produce and greens for individuals, families, and their neighbors.
Filling The Gaps With High Tunnel Food Production
Food insecurity is a complex challenge, but at the core of the issue are two important goals:
- Bringing fresh crops that aren’t normally available for individuals and communities, and
- Doing so in a way that’s affordable and sustainable for the benefit of the farmers, the community, and everyone in it.
The obstacles that stand in the way of those goals vary on a case-by-case basis, but often include:
- Limited funds
- Difficulties of year-round production
- Producing a yield large enough to support community members
- Finding a solution that’s just right for your area
While most might see these situations as feats to overcome, we see them as opportunities with a high tunnel greenhouse. Often designed to help extend the growing season beyond its usual bounds, they are also easily customizable (with various support options for ventilation, lighting, heating, and irrigation) with a low start-up cost to boot.
The high tunnel offers more than just convenient dimensions. They also require little to no energy supply. They typically rely on natural sunlight to modify the inside climate, yet can be customized with relative ease to accommodate growers throughout the year.⠀ ⠀ #Rimol #greenhouse #hightunnel #fourseasonfarming #growingmadeeasy #TogetherWeGrow
Over our nearly 30 years of experience, we’ve witnessed what high tunnels can do for communities and families in need of more reliable access to fresh crops.
Rimol Greenhouse Systems has had the pleasure of assisting hundreds of farmers across the country in their efforts to bring food security back to their communities. Here are three incredible growers and organizations that have taken up the mantle of providing their families and their neighborhoods with the fresh food they need to thrive.
Do you know the Arnolds, the owners of Pleasant Valley Farm, in Argyle, NY? If you are a grower in the northeast, likely you do… They have been in business for over 30 years, and supply their local community with local produce and local knowledge. On a recent trip, I received an inside look at their extensive winter greens operation. Both Paul and Sandy are leaders within the grower movement, and are one of the premier farm families in the Northeast. The tunnels pictured contain winter greens, and are 34’ X 144’ – did you know that larger high tunnels remain warmer, and heat up quicker in the winter? The Arnolds know this because they collect data with sensors. They also help innovate, and are happy to spread knowledge and share the bounty.⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #rimolgreenhouse #Noreaster #greenhouse #negrown #winterproduction #localproduce #thoughtleader #northeast #grateful #argyle #themoreyouknow #ifyoudontknownowyouknow #theArnolds #spreadknowledge #sharethebounty #notoninstagram #dataiscool #mathmatters #ventsopen #unlessitscold #realcold #backupheat #solidbaseboard #nowoodinthisgreenhouse
There’s a lot to learn from Lumnah Acres - from their impressive homestead operation complete with farm animals, hoop houses, and a Rimol high tunnel to their influential YouTube channel documenting their journey to self-sufficiency. Using their high tunnel and their determination, Lumnah Acres owners Al, Gina, and daughter Olivia have created their own space to grow crops to secure their own access to fresh food.
To establish a self-sufficient homestead to provide as many fresh veggies and greens as possible for the Lumnah Acres family all year long.In a quest to find freedom from the rat race and self-sufficiency based on fresh food and hand-grown produce, the owners of Lumnah Acres set a goal to take control of their food by growing as much as possible right on their own property.
The greenhouse is really coming along! We just finished up all of the bracing on the hoops. I was surprised how much the bracing really stiffened up the structure. Check out today’s video to see the progress. Thanks @rimolgreenhouse for building such a rugged kit. You know we are going to need it with our weather! We are looking forward to building the end walls next. Hoping our weather cooperates. #greenhouse #homesteading #farmlife #newhampshire
The family of Lumnah Acres recently purchased and installed their own 30′ x 48′ Nor’Easter High Tunnel “Standard” Package, featuring steel-framed end walls, roll-up sides, and a wind bracing kit for superior wind protection in New England. The goal: to provide an ideal growing space for crops to supply their family’s needs, with minimal reliance on external food sources.
There’s still a lot of Lumnah’s story to be told with their new high tunnel, but we look forward to seeing how they continue to achieve self-sufficiency and free themselves from the threat of food insecurity using the protected grow space of their high tunnel.
As a nonprofit organization that sought to donate 100% of their crops to their Eastern Massachusetts community, it was vital that Gaining Ground could find an affordable greenhouse solution to keep up with demand—even throughout notoriously harsh New England winters.
To continue giving back to food pantries and other nonprofits in their neighborhood at the level they strived for, Gaining Ground needed to increase their yield somehow. Unfortunately, expanding acreage wasn’t an option. With a limited amount of acreage to work with, we helped their team seek out another expansion solution: extending their growing season to achieve year-round results.
Working alongside the Rimol team, they found a greenhouse combination that could make the most of their limited space and keep their admirable mission moving forward.
Utilizing two types of greenhouses—Rimol Hoop Houses and a Rolling Thunder mobile greenhouse—Gaining Ground achieved the results they sought after.
“Since all of our produce is donated to those in need, we are always trying to increase the amount and quality of produce we can provide, and the indoor growing spaces help us do just that,” said Amy Capofreddi, Executive Director at Gaining Ground.
In addition to working outside of a typical New England growing season, fighting the chilly weather that raged outside of their greenhouses, Gaining Ground was able to optimize their indoor conditions to pave the way for a highly successful harvest. The variables responsible for growth (humidity, light levels, temperature, and ventilation) were more easily controlled. Insects and diseases no longer posted a significant threat.
“We’ve outfitted the Rolling Thunder with everything - roll-up sides,ventilation, insect screening - and we haven’t had a single beetle bother our cucumbers,” said Doug Wolcik, Gaining Ground’s Farm Manager. “That turns into a big difference when harvest time arrives.”
Spending less time responding to infestations or sudden weather changes, their indoor growing solutions in turn increased Gaining Ground’s productivity—with the numbers to prove it. Their year-end total grew from 35,000 lbs in 2013 to 99,000 lbs in 2018 by significantly increasing their yields per square foot.
Gaining Ground’s year-over-year growth has helped organizations like Rosie’s Place, Open Table, Houses of Hope and Bridge Boston Charter School distribute locally-grown fruits and vegetables to those in need across Eastern Massachusetts.
Pleasant Valley Farms
Argyle, New York
Located about an hour north of Albany, Pleasant Valley Farm is the epitome of a small, community-focused family farm. Today, they sell 90% of their crops to local farmers markets and online home deliveries/pre-orders to make sure their neighbors have nutritious food, all year long. But getting there meant extending their growing season in a controlled environment—and high tunnels have been the solution.
When Paul and Sandy Arnold of Pleasant Valley Farm first decided to undertake winter crop production back in 1992, they knew there was a real opportunity to be seized.
After all, conventional open-air growing methods meant they could only sell to their local farmers markets during the warm growing season which meant less money in their pocket year round and—most importantly—fewer fresh vegetables and greens available to the community during the winter months.
In order to achieve true year-round production, the Arnolds knew they needed a way to extend the growing season using a controlled growing environment. They were pioneers in winter production in low tunnels, high tunnels, and radiant heated benches in their greenhouse. They purchased 3 high tunnels (2006, 2008, 2012) from Rimol, outfitted them with good outside drainage, polycarbonate ends, automatic roll-up sides, 2 water systems, propane and electricity and started growing and perfecting their winter growing—and since then, they’ve enjoyed the ride!
Busy week on the farm! Planting, weeding, watering, washing, harvesting and tomorrow will add packing! A quick reminder to all that the @gffarmersmarket moves back to the South Street Pavilion this Saturday (8am to noon) and the @saratogafarmersmarket remains at the mall! (9am to 1pm). Lots of vendors all safely spaced out and ready to help you stock your cupboards from 6’ away!
Using their 30 x 48 Matterhorn greenhouse (built in 2001) and three 144-foot long Nor’Easter high tunnels, the Arnolds have been able to extend their growing season to cover all 52 weeks of the year. By cycling their production to match the needs of the seasons—starting some crops under cover and moving outdoors later, or growing smaller crops like micro-greens and pea shoots on their radiant-heated benches in the greenhouse—Pleasant Valley Farm is able to provide fresh veggies to local customers year-round.
As a result, those same farmers' markets now flourish all year long, allowing the Arnolds to match their summer season income with winter season income, and have a full year of productive growing. Plus, they’ve been able to help the farming community learn and grow using these techniques and those of other innovative farmers. Having the right tunnels, tech equipment, practices, knowledge, and markets, winter growing is a lucrative venture and benefits a vast array of folks, including farmers, companies, and communities.
Fighting Hunger One High Tunnel At A Time
We’re grateful to have had the opportunity to assist these organizations in their selfless efforts to alleviate food insecurity and achieve self-sufficiency in their food system. Our mission is to match our partners with the greenhouse that will serve their goals best—and to be a part of these amazing goals has been incredible.