Friday, May 11, 2012

High Tunnel Alliance Connects Urban Farmers to More Efficient Growing


ByJill Stankiewicz

Example of a high tunnel: SHARE Food Program’s Nice Roots Farm
High tunnels, also known as hoop houses, help urban farmers to produce more food.  Penn State Extension in Philadelphia County in cooperation with the Department of Horticulture has established a High Tunnel Alliance in the City of Philadelphia with 10 partnership community based agencies. The tunnels are funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and the alliance supports Philadelphia’s urban farms committed to increasing food security. Their simple yet effective design, basically a plastic-covered greenhouse, helps to insulate crops against low temperatures in the spring and fall.  This extends the growing season for many crops and adds more control to the growing environment which helps reduce pesticide use and retain the soil’s nutrients. 

Heritage Farm at Methodist Home is an active member of the High Tunnel Alliance.  Heritage Farm was established in 2011 to support the 200 children and adults affiliated with the campus.  Heritage Farm is in the process of executing its plans for a complete food growing operation, cut flower Community Sustainable Agriculture program, and community kitchen.  The addition of Heritage Farm to the Methodist Home campus will help to foster healthy eating and lifestyles among its residents while providing opportunities to build work skills.  Clients and residents will also be invited to take classes on vegetable and fruit growing, children’s gardening, and food preparation and nutrition. 

Interested in creating your own high tunnel?  Help may be available from the USDA.  Please visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/national/programs/?&cid=stelprdb1046250 for more information. 

Our Extension office has been integral to the process of Alliance building, since its inception about 3 years ago, and has been a steward from concept/design to construction and use. As this shape shifting has taken place, Master Gardeners have begun the process of volunteering at these sites, first with Overbrook Environmental Center and next hopefully with Methodist Homes. Want to help with this initiative?  Please contact Kim at phillymgcoordinator@gmail.com.    

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