Northeast Tennessee Hosts Successful Traveling Workshop Series on Producing Year-Round Harvests





July 26, 2015.   A traveling series of workshops for agricultural producers on extending the growing season were offered across northeast Tennessee during the months of May and June. Due to the region’s moderate climate, cold-hardy produce (such as lettuce, broccoli, greens) can be successfully grown year-round, even through snow and freezing temperatures. Other crops, like tomatoes, can be grown well into winter and started much earlier in the spring.  Workshops were hosted on working farms by the Appalachian RC&D Council, AccelNOW, and the TN Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant in an effort to educate farmers on ways to generate income during the traditional off-season.

Over 100 attendees participated in workshops in five counties: Washington, Sullivan, Johnson, Hawkins and Greene counties. Most of the workshops were held on farms which had high tunnels through the NRCS EQIP cost-share program that provides competitive grants for 75-90% of the cost.


New grower Mary Beth Owens attended one of the workshops closest to her home garden out of which she is selling produce to the farmers market this summer. “Enlightening” was how she described the event. “It was easy to see how their high tunnels boost production and prolong the growing season. Their companion planning and growing methods really illustrated how much you can produce in even a little space with smart farming.”


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 through winter, 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.”


District Conservationists from county offices of the US Dept. of Agriculture NRCS were present at each of the workshops. The USDA offers a grant for installation of Seasonal High Tunnel Systems administered by each county Soil Conservation office. High Tunnels must be a minimum 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 a Hoop House) can be several thousand dollars before government grants, but the workshops also discussed inexpensive strategies, including build-your-own high tunnels, low tunnels, row cover (also called float fabric), selecting cold-hardy varieties of plants, planting calendars, planting according to soil temperature, and soil management.


One workshop was hosted at Whites Mountain Meadow Farm in Greene County, which has two high tunnels that were built by the farm owners themselves according to NRCS cost-share guidelines. On New Year’s Day, the Whites were still harvesting generous-sized lettuce heads. His advice to growers: calculate your first frost date and back date how many days it takes the variety to get to maturity. Then for spring planting, “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 was provided to attendees about available markets for winter 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.”


While this traveling workshop series is concluded for now, both the Appalachian RC&D Council and AccelNOW will continue their partnership to provide education and training to Northeast Tennessee farmers. To keep apprised of future events, stayed tuned here at www.arcd.org for more information or on Facebook: