A traveling series of workshops for agricultural producers on extending the growing season is being offered across northeast Tennessee, sponsored by the Appalachian RC&D Council and AccelNOW. Due to our moderate climate, cold-hardy produce (such as lettuce, broccoli, greens) can be successfully grown year-round, even through snow and freezing temperatures, and other crops, like tomatoes, can be grown well into winter. The Greene County workshop will be held June 29 at White’s Mountain Meadow Farm (1770 Justice Road, Afton, 37616), from5:30-7:00pm. The workshop includes dinner, and is free to attendees who reserve in advance at 423-979-2581. Details at ARCD.org.
So far close to 75 attendees have participated in workshops at three other locations: Jim Couch Farm, Rogersville; the farms of Harvey Burniston and Rick Hansen, Butler; and Northeast State Community College hosted Matt Dobson of Preservation Farms.
Explaining the reasoning behind these events, Emily Bidgood, Project and Development Coordinator for the Appalachian RC&D Council said, “There are relatively few producers in the greater Tri-Cities selling directly to consumers all year round, and there is plenty of opportunity for entrepreneurial farmers to get in the game. Supporting this means more fresh local food can be available all year.”
John Campbell, director of AccelNOW, whose mission is to create the most dynamic entrepreneurial environment possible in the region for creating more jobs and raising overall income levels said, “With workshops like these for small plot landowners you are introducing ways to increase overall income from their land. We are very fortunate to have organizations like the ARC&D working to improve our regional economy that we can partner with on such programs.”
Representatives from the US Dept. of Agriculture office in Greene County office will be present at the workshop. The USDA offers a grant for installation of Seasonal High Tunnel Systems administered by each county Soil Conservation office. High Tunnels are 6-foot tall, steel-framed, polyethylene covered structures that are used to protect crops and increase soil temperature through cold weather. Agricultural producers can apply to receive up to 75% of the cost of the average system, but Historically Underserved farmers (Minorities, Veterans, Beginning, Limited Resource) are eligible to receive up to 90%.
“We’re trying to get the word out there about these under utilized cost-share programs and help farms take in more stable income through the year,” said Bidgood.
The upfront cost for a High Tunnel (also called Hoop Houses) can be several thousand dollars before government grants, but the workshops will also discuss inexpensive strategies, including build-your-own high tunnels, low tunnels, row cover (also called float fabric), selecting cold-hardy varieties of plants, planting calendars, and soil management.
On New Year’s Day the Whites were still harvesting generous-sized lettuce heads at what Robert White fondly calls “their little Appalachian hill farm.”
“The key is planting according to soil temperature, not air temperature,” he says.
Currently most farmers markets in the greater Tri-Cities close their doors come winter, but information will be provided to attendees about available markets for wintery vegetables. The Appalachian RC&D Council just concluded a series of buyer-producer mixers, an opportunity for local growers to network with area restaurants, groceries, and small distributors who all want to buy more local produce. The results from these mixers will be informative for those who want to turn the “off season” into the “on season.”