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News Release

Taking Root: NHACD Demonstration Agreement Gets ‘Tunnel Vision’ in Merrimack County

Contact:
Jeremy J. Fowler, Public Affairs Specialist, NRCS, N.H.
603-868-9931


Attendees of a formal ribbon cutting for the newly installed high tunnel listen to remarks from speakers at the campus of the N.H. Technical Institute in Concord, N.H., May 5, 2019. The high tunnel was recently erected under a demonstration grant agreement funded through the NRCS to show students and beginning farmers the many benefits of high tunnels on their agricultural operation. (Natural Resources Conservation Service photo by Jeremy J. Fowler, Public Affairs Specialist, NRCS, N.H)

 

DOVER, N.H. May 6, 2021 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in New Hampshire has helped the NHTI Concord's Community College (NHTI) develop some tunnel vision, but it’s the kind that can have a big impact on farming in the Granite State.

Faculty at NHTI, a community college in Concord, New Hampshire, celebrated a ribbon-cutting event May 5, 2021 to mark the finishing of a new high tunnel erected on campus.

The high tunnel was procured through a demonstration agreement grant between NRCS and the N.H. Association of Conservation Districts (NHACD) and the effort was led by the Merrimack County Conservation District (MCCD).

“We are excited to be part of this high tunnel project here at the [NHTI],” said Becky Ross, State Conservationist for NRCS in New Hampshire. “Working with our partners at the Merrimack County Conservation District and NHACD to fund this structure helps show the dedication and commitment we all have to sustainable agriculture and future generations of farmers in the Granite State,” she said.

The project was a partnership between the NHTI and the MCCD with the aim to train beginner farmers in New Hampshire and will allow for classes and experiments in the high tunnel to be conducted on campus where they were previously conducted at local farms.

Tracey Lesser, Program Coordinator for Environmental Science and Sustainable Agriculture at the N.H. Technical Institute cuts the ribbon to the newly installed high tunnel at the school campus in Concord, N.H., May 5, 2019. Lesser was given the honor for her efforts in procuring a grant agreement through NRCS for a demonstration high tunnel to augment the school’s Sustainable Agriculture program. (Natural Resources Conservation Service photo by Jeremy J. Fowler, Public Affairs Specialist, NRCS, N.H)

“I think this project is going to be important to the area regionally,” said Stacy Luke, District Manager for the MCCD who shepherded the project to this point. “This is the only two-year [agriculture] program now in the state of New Hampshire and so this will hopefully be a great start for those students who want to move into the world of conservation and sustainable agriculture. This high tunnel is going to be a vital part of building that program and building that structure of the new farmers and the new conservationists here in the state,” she said.

Since the discontinuation of the two-year agricultural science degrees at the University of New Hampshire, NHTI has been attempting to provide a cost-effective certificate and Associate’s program in Sustainable Agriculture to Granite Staters looking to gain formal education outside of the state’s university system.

With the program now out of its infancy at NHTI, this demonstration high tunnel will allow for a more immersive education experience right on campus, something the program has been struggling with since its inception four years ago. Much of the learning had to occur at participating local farms, creating a challenge explains Tracey Lesser, Program Coordinator for Environmental Science and Sustainable Agriculture at NHTI:

“A lot of our students don't have reliable transportation; we have students that don't have cars, so they would have come on to campus we'd have to drive to the location as a group which eats into class time,” said Lesser. “So now we can work in the greenhouse - if we want to take soil samples and run up to a lab and analyze them, we can. If we want to identify pests or bugs, we can go right up to the lab. We have the full resources and that full chunk of educational time … it just makes it nicer to keep everything here so that we have access to the labs,” she said.

As the rain pours outside, the soil inside a newly erected high tunnel at the N.H. Technical Institute campus in Concord, New Hampshire, remains at a constant moisture level and ready to be put to work May 5, 2019. The school celebrated the official opening of the NRCS-funded structure Wednesday to augment the school’s Sustainable Agriculture program and made use of NRCS financial and technical assistance to get the project on the ground. (Natural Resources Conservation Service photo by Jeremy J. Fowler, Public Affairs Specialist, NRCS, N.H)

The NRCS funded $7,500 of the estimated $10,000 cost and provided technical assistance for the project.  Specialists and conservation planners from the NRCS Concord Field Office conducted review of the size and type of structure and provided input on site selection and land preparation for the seasonal high tunnel to ensure that it would meet the intended use by the school.

“Having a high tunnel here for the students and faculty is a win-win for NRCS,” said Ross. “These future farm operators will be able to understand the how these structures can extend their growing season, improve irrigation efficiency, climate resilience and farm viability. It also exposes them to the support available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service as they move forward with careers in agriculture.”

NHTI is planning to use the structure to support up to ten classes. The momentum of the project and the partnership is expected to continue with installation this month of drip irrigation, a compositing area, a weather station and soil temperature and moisture probes to collect data.

NHTI also plans for the structure to be a boon for the local community.  The high tunnel will help serve as a nursery for plants to be transferred to the Sycamore Community Garden near campus that assists new Americans and low-income farmers grow their own crops. Many of the crops grown there are unique ethnic crops such as African eggplant which struggles to grow directly in the New Hampshire climate. This new structure will allow for seedlings of those plants to mature prior to transplanting to the community garden.

Lesser says it will also be a place to implement experiments suggested by local farmers that might have local impact. “We hope to serve the community, so if there are farmers who want to try something - we can try it here. This is an experimental, educational greenhouse, so we can run experiments, if they fail, they fail and it's ok,” said Lesser.

The school is also planning to expand the on-campus agriculture operation outside the structure to include a small orchard and pollinator habitat adjacent to the high tunnel and looks to work with the MCCD for those projects as well.

The New Hampshire NRCS is a leader in promoting the use and benefits of high tunnels. With recent attention on climate volatility, the use of these structures allows protection for crops that would not have a long enough season in this area to remain profitable for producers.

The USDA’s NRCS State Conservationist, Becky Ross (center) discusses the high tunnel with District Conservationist Jessica Rock (left) and Program Coordinator for Environmental Science and Sustainable Agriculture at N.H. Technical Institute, Tracey Lesser (right) after the formal ribbon cutting at the N.H. Technical Institute campus in Concord, N.H., May 5, 2019.  Ross explains other opportunities and partnerships that might be available to assist the school’s Sustainable Agriculture program, now the only two-year agriculture program in the state. (Natural Resources Conservation Service photo by Jeremy J. Fowler, Public Affairs Specialist, NRCS, N.H)

 

See photos of this event here

Under programs offered to farm operators in New Hampshire, the NRCS can assist eligible producers in implementing high tunnels on their operation under the both the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) or Agriculture Management Assistance (AMA) Farm Bill programs.  

You can find out more information about high tunnels by watching this USDA video about the practice here: https://bit.ly/3nMXyNY

If you are interested in possibly getting a high tunnel on your farm operation, you can find contact information for your local NRCS field office here: http://go.usa.gov/xdH4j or contact your local county conservation district.

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