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Focus on the Farm Blog - High Tunnels in Urban Agriculture

By: Carly Whitmore, USDA-NRCS Idaho
Publish Date
men in front of a high tunnel

Urban agriculture is one way to address fighting food insecurity in Idaho. From children to the elderly, urban farms are providing nutritious, fresh foods to their communities all across the state.

Urban agriculture is one way to address fighting food insecurity in Idaho. From children to the elderly, urban farms are providing nutritious, fresh foods to their communities all across the state. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines urban farms as “any farming operation that directly benefits its community.” These communities are not just concrete jungles, but rural communities miles away from a supermarket, too. And, by utilizing high tunnels, urban farms have an opportunity to continue to provide for their communities year-round, no matter the weather.

High tunnels, also called hoop houses, are plastic-lined greenhouses with a metal frame. Many designs feature the ability of the lower plastic portions to be rolled up for ventilation to expose growing plants. The plastic covering is strong enough to withstand snow and ice and provide enough insulation to keep growing temperatures high. High tunnels are an affordable way for farmers with limited space to maximize their tillable acreage and keep produce growing through many of the colder months. Tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers and peppers are some of the most popular crops grown in high tunnels and are also some of the most successful crops. Tomatoes generally have a growing season which ends prior to the first frost, but high tunnels offer a chance to extend a tomato’s growing season and offer a producer the opportunity to increase their yield, and subsequently their profit.

Seeing as they increase yield and maximize space, high tunnels are a perfect solution for urban farms, no matter the size of the community they serve. High tunnels allow these farms the ability to produce a higher variety of food and at a higher quantity for longer periods of time, offering these communities foods throughout the year rather than only during traditional growing seasons. Families and community partners would be able to get fresher, more nutritious foods throughout the year if their local urban farm used high tunnels.

High tunnels sound great, but how can an urban farmer get one? USDA-NRCS can help with that. NRCS, or the Natural Resources Conservation Service, offers cost-share opportunities for qualified landowners and producers to enhance their operation through conservation.  The cost-share program most used by producers and landowners is the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). EQIP allows producers and landowners to apply for up to 75% of the cost of a high tunnel to be provided by USDA-NRCS, making high tunnels more accessible.

High tunnels are only one item that can be included in a producer’s EQIP application. Producers and landowners, upon first contact with NRCS, join their soil conservationist to create a comprehensive conservation plan for their operation. Included in this plan can be high tunnels, forest stand improvement, irrigation assistance and more. There are opportunities within EQIP for all types of landowners and producers, including urban farmers.

Cost-share programs like EQIP give urban farms the ability to feed their communities more than ever before, and high tunnels are at the forefront of that. Urban farmers have a special opportunity to utilize their already limited land by installing high tunnels, and EQIP is the easiest and most cost-effective ways to do so.

Urban farms support their communities with fresh produce, and NRCS can help urban farms support their communities with yield-increasing high tunnels.

For more information on whether a high tunnel is right for you, visit or your local USDA Service center.