GROWING OPERATION: Hoop Houses Help Farmers

Farmers’ Market season is almost here. The Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market opens Saturday, May 5. You’ll find more produce at markets earlier in the season and even in the winter thanks to a technique popping up on more Iowa farms.

Sally Gran farms 15 acres near Nevada with Chris Corbin. He says laughing, “We’re not married.” The two started TableTop Farms with their respective spouses last year and bring about thirty varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs to market. Gran says, “People right now are becoming really interested in healthy greens.”

Now, they have a new tool to produce more local fruits and vegetables throughout the year. Showing construction workers putting up a frame, Corbin says, “This is a moveable high tunnel.”

The structure is also known as a hoop house. It provides heat without electricity and protects vulnerable plants from pests and the wind. Sally Worley with Practical Farmers of Iowa says, “They [high tunnels] extend the season, both on the front and back end of the season, and they also create a more controlled environment for volatile weather in the middle of the season.”

Practical Farmers of Iowa hosts field days for farmers to learn how to put up their own. About 25 people helped construct the hoop house at TableTop Farms. Gran says, “We know a lot of farmers who have gotten high tunnels, and all of them love them. And, they say they’re like rabbits. They multiply because you get one, you see how useful it is and the high quality crops you can grow inside.”

This is the third time Practical Farmers of Iowa hosted a High Tunnel Workshop. The group brought in Hoop House Consultant Adam Montri. He says, “We’ve seen clearly kind of an explosion in the last three years.”

Montri says that’s partly because federal programs now provide money to help farmers put up high tunnels. The structures cost $8,000 to more than $20,000. Montri says more new farmers are willing to make that investment. He says, “I think what we’re seeing is more people getting into farming, who maybe don’t have an agricultural background and they grow up with jobs where they had this year-round income, and I think feels more like what they grew up with.”

Corbin says the high tunnel will allow them to hire full time employees, making the structure a critical part to their growing operation.