March 10th’s Field School was at Harbin Hill Farms in Mountain City, TN, and we discussed season extension and year round growing using high tunnels. High tunnels (also called hoop houses) are unheated, plastic-covered structures that protect rows of in-earth planting areas from the environment (rain, wind, cold temperatures) and allow farmers to produce crops outside of the normal season, control the amount of water plants receive, protect from pests, and all sorts of good stuff. Richard Calkins, owner of Harbin Hill Farms, has three high tunnels on his farm and was growing happy carrots and lettuce when we visited, despite the cold.

Jason Hughes, the District Conservationist for Carter and Johnson Counties, spoke about the NRCS, its history, and its many support programs for farmers. NRCS stands for Natural Resource Conservation Service, and their services focus on preserving/improving soil health, conserving grasslands and watersheds, creating wildlife habitat, and other important environmental efforts.The good news for farmers is that their programs come with financial support to help you implement conservation practices on your farm!

Jason spoke about the 5 steps to sign up for services from NRCS, including getting a comprehensive farm conservation plan. Then he focused in on the EQIP High Tunnels program. Beginning farmers are eligible for up to $7666 in funding to purchase a high tunnel, but funding is limited each year, and not guaranteed to everyone who applies. As with everything, we recommend you do your research and plan ahead!

Other NRCS Programs you may be eligible for include:

Agricultural Management Assistance: Construct or improve water management or irrigation structures

Conservation Stewardship Program: Improve resource conditions such as soil quality,  water quality, water quantity, air quality, habitat quality, and energy

As well as easement programs.

The NRCS has a host of programs and funding for farms, but they can be difficult to navigate. We encourage you to reach out to your local NRCS office and talk with someone about what programs you may be eligible for and how to go about getting financial assistance.

After Jason, Richard Calkins of Harbin Hill Farms discussed his farm, mission, and progress towards his goals so far. Richard is a graduate of the first year of the Field School and has been farming for two years. He has three high tunnels in production on his farm through the EQIP program. He discussed his experience with year round crop planning and then took us on a tour of the farm. Though it was chilly outside, his high tunnels were filled with produce!

Richard Calkins welcomes students to his farm


Field School students taking a tour of Harbin Hill’s three hoop houses


Lettuce thriving in the hoop house!


Richard also uses row cover to give his plants even more of a chance against the cold


Harbin Hill’s chicken yard


Richard explains his outdoor raised beds and row cover

Field School students pose for a group photo after their tour of Harbin Hill Farms