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High Tunnel Help for Little Family Farm

By Ian Carver NRCS-WA Public Affairs Specialist
Publish Date
 High tunnel with growing bell peppers

A small Pasco, Wash. family farm teams up with Natural Resources Conservation Service, Washington (NRCS-WA) to increase crop yields and maintain their regenerative farming practices.

SPOKANE, Wash. – A small Pasco, Wash. family farm teams up with Natural Resources Conservation Service, Washington (NRCS-WA) to increase crop yields and maintain their regenerative farming practices.

Local Pumpkin, located just outside the Pasco city limits, is operated by John and Cathy Franklin on a two-acre piece of land that they also call home. 

A business born from Cathy’s passion for simple home cooking made with quality, local, fresh ingredients, and John’s desire for running his own family business, allowed the farm to dig out a niche business within the Tri-City area. The Franklins now provide fresh, seasonal, organic produce grown not only on their farm but also sourced from 20 to 30 other independent farms in the area. As a secondary convenience to their loyal customers, Local Pumpkin runs a delivery service that supplies roughly 650 customers with over 20,000 deliveries a year. 

“My wife helped get us into agriculture as she was a foody and I was a business guy, so in some respects growing our own food was a logical next step from our food distribution,” said John. 

With a growing customer base who has come to depend on Local Pumpkin over the past eight years, it has become more important than ever for the Franklins to keep up with increasing demand. Sustainably grown, organic peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers are the primary produce cultivated on Local Pumpkin. However, having only an acre or so to grow on makes high yields difficult, especially with harsh winters and hot summers impacting the growing season. This is where NRCS-WA came into the picture. Using an NRCS program called the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Franklins were able to get a large portion of a much-needed High Tunnel paid for. A High Tunnel is much like its name states, it is a large, semi-circular tunnel made from polyethylene, plastic or fabric covered hoops that can be scaled and moved based on need and growing season. These structures are a fraction of the cost of a standard green house and create a covered environment that helps to ward off potentially damaging weather, like hail or snow, and can also help to keep pests away from crops. 

As a smaller farm with an Adjusted Gross Income under $900,000, the Franklins qualified for the ACT NOW program, a subsidiary program under EQIP that helps speed up applying for and receiving funding for things like High Tunnels. ACT NOW is a separate funding pool that is based on a first come first served basis. 

“ACT NOW is a fast track for certain practices that helps farms access much needed funds in a more efficient way, it has year-round open enrollment as long as funds are available for that fiscal year,” said JoBy Shields, NRCS Soil Conservationist in the Pasco Service Center. 

EQIP offers technical and financial assistance for working lands, including field crop, specialty crops, organic, confined livestock and grazing, and non-industrial private forest land. Rather than take land out of production, EQIP helps farmers maintain or improve production while conserving natural resources on working landscapes.

“Out of the Pasco Service Center we have four contracts that have been obligated or completed for $614,000 and three in preapproved or approved stage for approximately $750,000.  This is for EQIP for FY24,” Shields said.”    

The addition of the High Tunnel provided by EQIP, the Franklins have been able to extend their growing season by keeping the plants warmer throughout the year or cooler in the summer months, even without the addition of electric heat or cooling. This has the potential to allow the farm to grow an additional crop each year and increase their overall productivity to the point that they are anticipating around $100k in revenue this year. 

Shields has been working with Local Pumpkin since October 2023, he mentioned how much of a joy it has been to work with them and that John and Cathy are amazing people. With the success of the first High Tunnel, the Franklins are looking to submit another application for a second High Tunnel with the help of NRCS-WA programs. 

“This was our first time working with NRCS-WA,” John said. “Our goal is to fill out another [EQIP-ACT NOW] application to put in one more tunnel in order to better rotate our crops throughout the year. The next high tunnel is looking like it should go in March of 2025.”

With the addition of a second High Tunnel, the Franklins should be able to dramatically increase the amount of food produced on their farm and continue their dream of providing responsibly grown and sourced food for their neighbors and community. Farms like Local Pumpkin are a great example of getting a lot from a small space and doing so in a way that maintains soil quality for years to come.