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Seasonal High Tunnel Increases Local Produce Availability at Area Farmers Market

story by Chase Garcia, NRCS District Conservationist

Seasonal high tunnels are a sight not commonly seen on the Permian Basin horizon, however, this could soon change thanks to one business’s successful endeavors at local farmers markets.  Late last year, with the help of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Flying Y Farms was able to build a high tunnel on their farmland near Tarzan, Texas and quickly realized the benefits high tunnels have to offer.  Seasonal high tunnels allow the growing season to be extended and help prevent freeze damage to crops. This allows additional income from crops that normally would not be available at local markets but which Flying Y Farms is now able to realize.

Flying Y Farms frequently attends the Midland Farmers Market and others markets in the area.Flying Y Farms is a family owned and operated business ran by DeAnn Yates and her daughter, Samantha Borgstedt.  The two have created a successful operation growing and selling a variety of seasonal vegetables and pecans.  Additionally, they incorporate the pecans, zucchini, and pumpkins they grow into delicious homemade breads and granola.  With all the care they put into their operation, it is no wonder they have strong “box sales” membership and are a Midland Downtown Farmers Market favorite.  Their seasonal success was overwhelming but it left them searching for ways to stretch the growing season so they could continue to provide more quality, locally grown food to their community.

High Tunnels are constructed of heavy plastic with adjustable sides to regulate temperature.
Crops are protected from wind and growing season is extended to improve quality and availability.
Drip tape is used to irrigate a variety of crops grown under this high tunnel.

An NRCS program was just the answer they were looking for. The NRCS’ Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative provides producers with financial and technical assistance to build high tunnels. Seasonal high tunnels, also referred to as “hoop houses," have a metal frame wrapped in thick plastic that can hold together in the high west Texas winds.  They look like greenhouses, but are different in that high-tunnel crops are grown in the soil, not in raised pots or tables as is the case with greenhouses.  In 2014, DeAnn and her husband constructed a 30 foot by 70 foot high tunnel by themselves with funding provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).  Seasonal high tunnels can be economically viable as they are relatively cost effective when compared with the benefit received with the extended growing season.

These structures allow farmers to generate additional income by allowing quality produce well beyond the season of normal availability.  They also offer a significant benefit to owners of small operations by providing a steady source of income during what would typically be considered the “lean months.”  DeAnn has already applied and been approved for NRCS financial assistance with construction of a second high tunnel.

“DeAnn was the first landowner in Martin County to apply for a high tunnel,” says Rebecca Campbell, District Director for the Mustang Soil and Water Conservation District.  “Since its construction last fall, the Stanton NRCS Field Office has seen county-wide interest.” 

Flying Y Farms grows a variety of seasonal vegetables from traditional offerings such as spinach, turnips, mustard and collard greens; as well as offering more contemporary choices like kale and arugula.  “The greens have benefitted the most from the construction of the seasonal high tunnel.  The greens are very sensitive to wind abrasion, which can cause unsightly growth and seriously impact quality,” says DeAnn.  “The seasonal high tunnel has been a valuable tool in helping us alleviate that concern and it has allowed us to keep the quality of our produce at a high standard.”  Regarding the economics of a high tunnel, Flying Y Farms stated that the increase in income from the first extended growing season covered more than 35% of the cost of materials and construction of the high tunnel.  She just wishes she would have installed one sooner.

DeAnn is Region Manager for Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Program and Samantha is the Communications Director for Texas Alliance for Water Conservation, so while Flying Y Farms is not their main income provider they are constantly looking for cost-effective, economical solutions that can help the operation continually grow.  After having the opportunity to tour her operation and sample her goods at the farmers market in Midland it looks like they are on the right track to achieving these goals.