High Tunnels on Organic Vegetable Farms: Case Studies

Organic Agriculture August 19, 2013 Print Friendly and PDF

eOrganic author:

Alex Stone, Oregon State University

Introduction

Before constructing a high tunnel, it is important to define the purpose of and develop an enterprise budget for the tunnel. Case studies describing how experienced organic farmers use and profit from different types of high tunnels can be very useful tools in this process. Learning from these case studies should help novice and experienced high tunnel users spend less money and time on, and get more from high tunnels.

Region

  • Northeast
  • West

Northeast

  • High tunnels: Using low-cost technology to increase yields, improve quality, and extend the season. T. Blomgren, T. Frisch, and S. Moore [Online] (n.d.). University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Burlington, VT. Available at: http://www.uvm.edu/~susagctr/Documents/HighTunnels.pdf (verified 17 March 2010).

    This manual is intended to provide farmers, agricultural developers, and farm advisors with a realistic depiction of some of the applications for high tunnels in Northeastern agriculture. We aim to assist farmers and those who work with farmers in determining if and how to make use of high tunnels. As a decision-making aid, this publication provides both general principles and specific, in-depth examples as guidance. The manual should enable more farmers to use high tunnels effectively, enhancing productivity, net income, and quality of life, and avoiding some of the pitfalls of earlier adopters.

    There is an accompanying DVD that features 6 farmers from 5 Northeastern states explaining how and why they constructed their high tunnel system, what they grow in it, and how it helps sustain their farming operation. To order the video, see http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/Videos/hightunnelvideo.html
  • Case Study: Slack Hollow Farm. In High tunnels: Using low-cost technology to increase yields, improve quality, and extend the season. T. Blomgren, T. Frisch, and S. Moore [Online] (n.d.). University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Burlington, VT. Available at: http://www.uvm.edu/sustainableagriculture/Documents/HighTunnels_SlackHollowFarm.pdf. (verified 17 March 2010).

    Seth Jacobs and Martha Johnson, Slack Hollow Farm,  Argyle, New York. The first of their two tunnels is a 21' x 120' gothic-shaped structure manufactured by Ledgewood Greenhouses. They built it in 1995 from a kit and estimate that it cost between $6,000 and $8,000. This relatively simple tunnel does not have electricity, heat, or fans, and uses roll-up sides for ventilation. It has an East-West orientation. In this structure, they utilize a two-crop rotation. They grow tomatoes and basil from early May through late September or early October, and spinach from mid-October through early April. Seth and Martha stopped growing tomatoes in the field about ten years ago because the yield and quality of their tunnel-raised tomatoes is so much better.
  • Case Study: Intervale community farm. In High tunnels: Using low-cost technology to increase yields, improve quality, and extend the season [Online] (n.d.) T. Blomgren, T. Frisch, and S. Moore. Undated. University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Burlington, VT. Available at: http://www.uvm.edu/sustainableagriculture/Documents/HighTunnels_IntervaleCommunityFarm.pdf (verified 17 March 2010.

    Andy Jones and Becky Maden, Intervale Community Farm, Burlington, Vermont.
    Intervale Community Farm has a total of six tomato tunnels. Four are 14' x 96' units. Two measure 14' x 144', and have sides that are about 18 inches higher than in the other four. The gothic-shaped structures were made by Ledgewood Greenhouses in New Hampshire. Andy selected the structure for its strength, snow-shedding design, and economical cost, which was about $0.90 per square foot.
  • Case Study: Star Light Gardens. In High tunnels: Using low-cost technology to increase yields, improve quality, and extend the season [Online] (n.d.). T. Blomgren, T. Frisch, and S. Moore.  University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Burlington, VT. Available at:  http://www.uvm.edu/sustainableagriculture/Documents/HighTunnels_StarLigh... (verified 17 March 2010).

    David and Ty Zemelsky, Star Light Gardens, Hartford, Connecticut. 
    Almost half an acre of intensive production in five high tunnels (17,500 square feet) complements an acre of field grown salad crops and other vegetables at Star Light Gardens, located one half hour south of Hartford, Connecticut. Mixed baby greens, mesclun, and tomatoes as well as arugula, basil, and pea tendrils are currently David and Ty Zemelsky’s main tunnel crops. Close to year round sales of freshly harvested produce from this micro-farm provide the couple with their livelihood.

     
  • How to improve profitability through season extension. D. Maulsby. 2003. Rodale Institute. Kutztown, PA. Available online at: http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/depts/talking_shop/0403/seasonextenti... (verified 17 March 2010).

    We’re not talking greenhouses here. We’re talking row covers, temporary season extension houses and frost irrigation, and it works. Paul and Sandy Arnold of Argyle, NY have done the math on it.
     
  • The early birds get the returns, Part 1 [Online]. P. Arnold and S. Arnold. Rodale Institute. Kutztown, PA. Available online at: http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features/0503/arnoldsgrow.shtml (verif

    Getting a jump on the growing season brings more loyal customers, more flexibility and more cash -- so get yourself some simple-to-build fieldhouses and start growing early. Paul and Sandy Arnold (Argyle, NY) describe in detail how they use these field houses ... and what they make off of them.
  • The early birds get the returns, Part 2. [Online] P. Arnold and S. Arnold. Rodale Institute. Kutztown, PA. Available at: http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features/0503/arnoldsbuild.shtml (verified 17 March 2010).

    Detailed instructions for building your very own fieldhouses —only $600 to $800 for a 96-foot house—duct tape required.

Western US

 

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.