High tunnels—also known as hoop houses or passive solar greenhouses—are an increasingly common feature on farms through the Upper Midwest, where their use provides valuable extension to the region’s short growing season. Local food markets—including farm to school—stand to benefit from the increased availability of fruits and vegetables throughout the year produced by the increased use of high tunnels. IATP’s new report, Extending the Growing Season: High Tunnels Use and Farm to School in the Upper Midwest, explores this relationship further. By looking at best practices in high tunnel use and Farm to School activities, the report identifies innovative approaches with the potential for linking the two practices more effectively. Such innovative ideas drive recommendations for more comprehensive support for increased on-farm implementation of high tunnels and for farm to school activities throughout the Upper Midwest.
The release of this report is timely, as critical federal funding and resources for the expansion of high tunnel use in the Upper Midwest and the nation are at risk. President Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2016, which is currently being considered by the House and Senate Budget Committees in their budget resolution processes, carries a request to cut $373 million from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This program, among other things, helps fund the popular Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative, which provides financial and technical support for farmers interested in implementing or expanding the use of high tunnels on their farm. High tunnels are low-cost and flexible tools that, when integrated and managed successfully, provide farmers with greater control over growing conditions and create an opportunity to increase the length of the growing season for specialty crops.