Many agricultural students enrolled in programs around the country know their stuff when it comes to physically producing the plants they grow. It’s quite another thing, however, to learn about the agribusiness industry as a whole - and thanks to a recent High Tunnel donation by Rimol Greenhouse Systems, students at the University of Delaware will be getting just that. Plus, they’ll be working with and feeding the community - and nothing pairs better with learning than local empowerment.
Giving Students Opportunities for Growth
The UDel’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources recently opened its new 30’ x 72’ High Tunnel greenhouse, a state-of-the-art grow space designed with practicality, sustainability, and year-round opportunities for education in mind. This donation will join one other High Tunnel to double the amount of indoor grow space available to UDel’s students and faculty, and will join the school’s 350-acre farm in producing food for local restaurants, a food bank, and even the school’s ever-hungry athletes.
“This tunnel adds a substantial amount of space to grow in, and with all this new equipment we’re looking to push into four-season growing with the students,” said Mark Rieger, dean of UDel’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “We’re actually looking to start some cool season stuff for the winter, like leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower. But it’s like we always say: the food is the by-product. The real, valuable product is the educated student, and this greenhouse helps us to better teach these students the skills they need to know.”
Learning Both Ends of the Business
Students at UDel, guided by a Farm Manager, learn a wide variety of skills, from growing and caring for crops and a sustainable, organic farm ecosystem in general, to the business of being a local grower. According to Rieger, the crops produced by the students are harvested and sold to local chefs, who’ve started to look to the college for high-quality produce during seasons when those ingredients wouldn’t typically be available.
Tomatoes, for instance, can be started early in a greenhouse like the High Tunnel, meaning UDel students can typically harvest and sell tomatoes earlier in the season than outdoor growers. For chefs looking to buy local, this early head-start is too enticing to pass up.
Students have a hands-on role in bringing buyers and the product together, as well as other aspects of the sales process like planning a growing season, negotiating pricing, and even organizing distribution. This real experience with the world of agribusiness has not only been valuable to agriculture majors, but has even drawn in majors like philosophy and business to help out and get involved with the farm.
Using the newfound space and tools available, UDel has also started to expand their extension programs, offering local adult learners the chance to improve their agricultural education. This helps to bring more of that valuable knowledge to the community, extending the benefits to everyone from first-timers to established growers.
Built to Handle the Elements
Though it may straddle the Mason-Dixon line separating North from South, Delaware is not necessarily a warm climate year-round. According to Rieger, snow and heavy winds are not so uncommon in those parts during the winter months, and so UDel needed a shelter that could withstand the snow and howling winds that nature might throw at it. That’s why the High Tunnel was the perfect fit - it’s durable enough to take on the worst of the winter with no problem.
While the original High Tunnel on the UDel campus - also a Rimol product - offers a slightly more bare-bones approach to growing, this new donation truly brings just about all the latest tech a grower might need to keep on harvesting all through the winter. This includes a solar kit for easy temperature control to keep things warm on cold days, a propane heater to bring up the heat when the nights drop below freezing, and even automatic roll-up sides to make ventilation easier than ever.
A Shared Belief in Education
Rimol Greenhouse Systems and the University of Delaware first started their partnership about three years ago, when UDel purchased their very first High Tunnel greenhouse from Rimol as a step in the direction of indoor growing.
"We needed something that could really offer protection, and take the conditions during the winter," said Rieger. "We knew Rimol made a high-quality, durable greenhouse, and so we decided to buy that first tunnel directly from them."
Originally, the school worked through Rimol’s Mid-Atlantic Sales Manager, Ryan Richard, who passed the school’s story onto founder Bob Rimol.Already committed to helping out educational programs around the country - including greenhouse donations to colleges like UVM, UNH, and nearby University of Maryland - Bob decided to reach out to UDel, assessing their needs and their plans for the future. After getting a feel for what would be most useful, Rimol officially donated the brand-new High Tunnel to help further UDel’s teaching capabilities.
"I am excited that we are done," said Bob, who managed to get to UDel for a visit prior to the completion of construction on the donation. "I look forward to stopping by again to see the new high tunnel!"
Moving Forward, and Moving Toward Sustainability
Now heading into the future with two functional High Tunnels and double the available indoor grow space, UDel has big plans to keep on improving. That means teaching students more and better skills, all the while making the program itself as sustainable as possible.
According to Rieger, the program at UDel plans to continue bolstering relationships with local chefs and farmers, always seeking out new and better ways to produce high-quality produce to feed the local community. By teaching students how they can co-exist within a functional local economy, providing fresh produce to local business owners and using the revenue to finance the program, the school can both give students the skills they need without cutting into the business of other local growers.
"The goal isn't to choke out the other growers around here; it's to become self-sustaining and to provide what the community needs," said Rieger. "We believe that we're succeeding when the whole local grower scene is succeeding, and we plan to work toward that in the future."
If you know of an educational program like that at UDel, or simply want to get yourself into the world of greenhouse growing, get in contact with Rimol Greenhouse systems. We can help you make your next move.