High Tunnels Popping Up in Franklin County
Bangor, Maine - August 15, 2011 -- You may have noticed a couple of high tunnels that have gone up in the last year in Franklin County, with the first one being on the Farmington Falls Road in Farmington. The owners of Sandy River Farms, L. Herbert "Bussie" York and wife Brenda, were the recipients of federal funding assistance from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to build a seasonal high tunnel on their farm. York is excited that he will be able to extend his growing season and increase his yields as a result of this high tunnel addition.
A seasonal high tunnel is a greenhouse-like structure, at least six feet in height, which modifies the climate inside to create more favorable growing conditions for vegetable and other specialty crops grown in the natural soil beneath it. Made of ribs of metal pipe covered with a layer of plastic sheeting, high tunnels are easy to build, maintain and move. Participating farms can receive funding for a maximum area of 2,178 square feet. Through the USDA NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program, funding for these seasonal high tunnels is being made available through a pilot study to test the potential conservation benefits of growing under these structures. This was the second year of the three-year study.
Sandy River Farms was created in 1961 when Bussie and Brenda York took over management of the farm from his parents, Linwood and Lila York who had operated the "King of the Valley" farm since 1952. In the almost 50 years since Bussie and Brenda have operated the farm, a number of land and building acquisitions as well as a diversified approach to farm management have created the current 600-acre organic dairy and crop organization.
Trudy Johnson, York's daughter, is operating the produce that is being grown in the newly-built high tunnel, which was completed late last fall. They are currently growing tomatoes and cukes in the high tunnel . "We mixed compost from the farm in with the soil, and this is the best crop that we've had" said Trudy's husband, Erik. In the fall they will plant root crops, such as spinach and carrots. They have been selling their fresh vegetables at the farmers market in Farmington, and have just opened up the Sandy River Farm Market next to the high tunnel. In addition to fresh vegetables at the farm market, they will sell dairy, meat and milk from the farm, as well as baked goods, butter, ice cream and spreadable cheese. "This is really exciting", said Trudy. "It's important for people to know where their food is coming from, and that is the whole purpose of the farm store. I hope people drop in and check out what we have to offer."
Just down the road on the Starks Road in New Sharon another high tunnel was completed this past spring at the Hoof 'n Paw Farm, a small diversified organic farm that produces a variety of mixed vegetables, potatoes, garlic, dry beans, and flower and herb seedlings. Owned and operated by Bob Basile and Karla Bock, this 66-acre farm has been in operation since 1986, when they took the farmland that had been idle for six years and eventually turned it into the working farm it is today.
They previously had two high tunnels, but they were small and more room was needed. So they applied for and were recipients of federal funding assistance from NRCS to build a 26' x 76' seasonal high tunnel on the farm. "The new high tunnel will allow us to extend our growing season so that we can offer fresh vegetables to the public the majority of the year", said Basile. "We plan to rotate our beds so that they don't all come up at once, spreading out the availability of the vegetables."
The couple sell vegetables to local stores, participate in farmers markets (Farmington and New Sharon), and offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) to the public. They also produce non-organic eggs. Most of their field work is done with Percheron horses.
The Hoof 'n Paw Farm was the recipient of the 2010 Conservation Farm of the Year Award from the Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District.
NRCS, in existence since 1935, is the lead conservation agency that helps farmers conserve, maintain and improve natural resources through science-based conservation efforts, technical assistance and incentive-based programs.
Maine NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program Website