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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week



Permalink What can you tell me about hoop house (or high tunnel) construction and use?

R.S.
Mississippi

Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information regarding hoop house (or high tunnel) construction and use.

Please refer to the ATTRA publication that details high-tunnel and greenhouse information, titled “Season Extension Techniques for Market Gardeners.” This publication has detailed information on using high tunnels for season extension on your farm as well as rudimentary plans on constructing them in the appendices.

In your region, a hoop house would be most effective as a season extension tool in the winter, early spring, and late fall. Over wintering cool season crops, such as lettuce, radishes, and other greens, can be planted in there or you can extend your warm-season crops further into the late fall or earlier in the late spring/ early summer.

A hoop house in your region can also be used to start vegetable transplants in the early spring. Listed below is a publication from Mississippi State University Extension Service on starting transplants in greenhouses. This publication breaks down the best time to start certain vegetables for the difference regions within your state.

Generally hoop houses, or high tunnels, are simple unheated “greenhouse-like” structures that provide less control of environmental conditions than full greenhouses at substantially less cost. They are usually covered with a single layer of plastic and are ventilated only through roll-up sides. A typical high tunnel does not have a heating system, and I do not think it would be necessary in your climate.

Drip irrigation is often used in high tunnels. The production system may be in-ground culture, or pots can be placed on the ground or on benches. The hoops for the high tunnel are often placed approximately 4 feet apart. Many plans call for using 2” PVC for the hoops, which is a more economical alternative, but they tend to be less rigid and more susceptible in areas of high winds. A narrow width of the building lends itself well to roll-up-side ventilation (approximately 14 feet or so). Tunnels and greenhouses with vertical sides which rise up before curving provide better side to side ventilation and allow for better use of growing spaces along the edges inside. In order to have vertical sides, however, you must use fabricated pipe, or bend the pipe yourself.

High tunnels are commonly sold in units of 48 or 98 feet long, but they can be ordered in any length. The cost of a 14-by 96 foot unit of single poly, roll-up sides and including end-walls and doors, and drip tape is about $2000-$3000, depending on the construction materials (1).

A great on-line resource for constructing and utilizing high-tunnels is http://www.hightunnels.org.

This excellent on-line resource has three different plans on how to build simple hoop houses as well as cultural information on growing certain vegetables and fruits in them. It seems to be the best, comprehensive, and farmer-friendly resource about high tunnels on the internet.

References:
(1) Grubinger, Vernon. 1999. Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-up to Market. Natural Resource, Agriculture and Engineering Service. Ithaca, NY.

Resources:
Bachman, Janet. 2005. Season Extension Techniques for Market Gardeners. NCAT ATTRA Publication # IP 035. ©2005 NCAT.

Snyder, Richard. 2004. Starting Vegetable Transplants. Mississippi State University Extension Service. Publication #P1955.

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Permalink What are some resources for starting an internship on my farm?

J.M.
Wisconsin

Answer: Thank you for requesting information from ATTRA on getting an internship started on your farm.

The following 17-page document may be helpful. Keep in mind that it deals specifically with the state of New York’s labor regulations. Internships in Sustainability: A Handbook for Farmers by Doug Jones (edited by Sarah Johnston) is now located at http://nofany.org/images/publications/internshiphandbook.pdf. A print copy may be ordered from:

Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY)
P.O. Box 880
Cobleskill, NY 12043-0880
$6.00, non-members

Some useful information may be gained from reading the current listings in ATTRA’s internship database. The database can be found at http://www.attrainternships.ncat.org/.

Resources:

Airmet, Rachel. 2004. How to have happy interns. Growing for Market. April. p. 1,
4–7.

Byczynski, Lynn. 1997. “Tired? Maybe it’s time to hire help.” Growing for Market. November. p. 1, 4.

Staff. 2000. So you’re ready for an apprentice? Tilth Producers Quarterly [Washington Tilth.] Spring. 2 p.

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Permalink What are some resources for finding local foods for our school lunch program?

N.T.
Ohio

Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information regarding resources for accessing local food for your school lunch program.

Please see the ATTRA publication, Bringing Local Food to Local Institutions. This publication is an excellent resource for finding other models of successful farm-to-school initiatives. These models can help guide you through any difficulties you may encounter with accessing local foods, your school administration, and with contracts with your current distributor.

Below are some local contacts that might be helpful in putting you in touch with farmers and distributors that would be willing to participate in your farm-to-school program.

Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
PO Box 82234
Columbus OH 43202
Phone: 614.421.2022 Fax: 614.421.2011
OEFFA is a grassroots coalition of food producers and consumers formed in 1979 to support and promote a healthful, ecological, accountable and permanent agriculture in Ohio and elsewhere. They may be aware of other farm to school initiatives within your state and be able to provide you with some farmers that are in your area and willing to sell to institutions such as yours.

Ohio Proud is a campaign started by the Department of Agriculture. They have a directory of farmers that are participating in the program. These farmers most likely would be willing to sell to your institution. You can access this on the internet at the following link:
http://www.ohioproud.org/_Apps/Search/Partners.aspx
or call the Ohio Proud office to ask for a printed copy of their directory. They may also be able to be a resource for you in other aspects of your farm-to-school initiative. Their contact information is below:
OHIO PROUD --Ohio Department of Agriculture
8995 East Main Street,
Reynoldsburg, OH 43068
Call 1-800-IM-PROUD (1-800-467-7683) for more information

Innovative Farmers of Ohio is a regional representative for the National Buy Fresh Buy Local Campaign. It is an organization that largely targets farmers, so they might have a resource list of farmers wanting to sell to institutions such as yours. Their contact information is:
Innovative Farmers of Ohio
5555 Airport Highway; Suite 100
Toledo, Ohio 43615
1-800-372-6092

The Northwest Ohio Fresh Network
The Northwest Ohio Fresh Network is a free direct-marketing program for buying and selling local fruits, vegetables, and other locally made products to chefs throughout the food service industry while building long-term business relationships. They have a distribution list of different farms and wholesalers participating in this program. Their contact information is:
The Northwest Ohio Fresh Network C/O CIFT;
5555 Airport Highway, Ste 100, Toledo, Ohio 43615-7320
419.534.3710 or 877.668.3472 (toll-free)

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Permalink What can you tell me about mushroom marketing?

G.S.
Virginia

Answer:
Markets for mushrooms vary widely depending on the type of mushroom. The familiar white or brown "button" type of mushroom (Agaricus) makes up the majority of the market, both fresh and processed. Supply, flat for many years, has declined in the face of stable prices and rising energy costs. Mushroom production is highly energy intensive as both heating and cooling are required. Compost must be sterilized at 160 degrees F, while spawning takes place at 45 degrees F. Recently, many large growers have gone out of business, most notably Franklin Farms, which removed about 3% of the total mushroom crop from the market (1).

One forecaster predicted that U.S. fresh mushroom consumption would increase by about 2% a year to reach 3.21 pounds per person per year by 2012. Processed mushroom consumption is expected to remain flat at about 1.65 pounds per person through 2012. The modest growth in fresh mushroom consumption is projected to be increasingly served by imports. U.S. fresh mushroom production will remain relatively stable over the forecast period, increasing by less than one percent per year. However, fresh mushroom imports are projected to increase by about 17% per year, growing from about 40 million pounds to 228 million pounds in 2012. The lackluster growth in domestic production reflects a projected slow growth in fresh grower price, which will increase by only 0.5% per year. U.S. export shipments are also expected to remain relatively flat at about 1.49 million per year (2).

There are also specialty mushrooms cultivated. The market for specialties is very strong and demand continues to increase, despite relatively high prices. However, most specialty types represent "thin" markets, where even a small increase in supply will drive prices down quickly. I have enclosed a paper on the black trumpet mushroom market that summarizes the specialty mushroom market.

I have also enclosed the latest paper from the National Agricultural Statistics service that describes the market situation for both common and specialty mushrooms.

For information on current prices of many types of mushrooms, go to http://marketnews.usda.gov/portal/fv; and find the "Run a Custom Report" section. Select "Terminal Market" in the "Type" field, and "Commodity" in the "By" field. Hit the "Go" button. You will then be able to select any or all terminal markets listed. Under "Commodity", scroll down to "Mushrooms".

Also see the ATTRA publication, "Mushroom Cultivation and Marketing".
References:
1) Coomes, Steve. 2006. Mushroom prices slicing pizzerias' profits. Pizza Marketplace. October 3.

2) Patterson, Paul M.. 2003. A Mushroom Forecasting Model: Review and Evaluation. Prepared for the Mushroom Council. Arizona State University.
June 15.

Resources:

Anon. 2006. Mushrooms. National Agricultural Statistics Service. August 16.

Knudsen, William. 2004. The Black Trumpet Mushroom Market. Strategic Marketing Institute Working Paper 1-1004. Michigan State University Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources.

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Permalink I'm interested in starting a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation, are there any permits or insurance requirements I should be advised of?

L.C.
Oregon

Answer: Thank you for requesting information from ATTRA on what insurance or permits would be advisable for a new Community Supported Agriculture operation.

Insurance needs of the rapidly expanding CSA movement in the U.S. are currently under discussion by the insurance industry. Some companies are now offering products for CSAs.

A University of Florida bulletin (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/CD019) summarizes the way Henderson and Van En approached these matters a decade ago.(1)

Legalities
Henderson and Van En discuss the legalities involved with a CSA. "Most CSAs carry standard liability insurance. As separate coverage, liability can be very expensive; as part of a farm insurance package, the price is more reasonable. You should try to get a liability policy that includes a stated level of medical expenses paid out without a lawsuit. Some CSAs have additional liability as a special form of 'pick-your-own' farming operations. The rates for 'pick-your-own' will be lower if you specify that you do not use synthetic pesticides and members do not use equipment, horses or ladders. Pick-your-own coverage will allow members to help harvest and to use hand tools. Keep a first-aid kit handy."

"A CSA can adopt a variety of legal structures. Each group should determine which form is most appropriate. Some CSAs are 'sole proprietorships' or partnerships; in other words, both farm and CSA business are the property of the farmers. Other CSAs separate the CSA from the ownership of the land. The land may be held as a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or a corporation, while the CSA is an unincorporated associate or is incorporated as a nonprofit corporation. Groups of farmers can organize as farmer-owned cooperatives. There is no set structure in the law for food co-ops or buying clubs, so groups of consumers can change the corporate structure that suits them best in forming a CSA. Institutional CSAs usually hold both the land and the CSA as part of a nonprofit corporation. Each form has advantages and disadvantages. The details of these legalities will vary from state to state."

An up-to-date discussion of potential insurance needs of CSAs has been published on-line by the American Association of Insurance Services (AAIS). The main concerns are landowner liability, product liability, and exposure of individuals on a CSA board of directors to lawsuits filed against them personally.

Many farmers obtain product liability insurance through membership in the Farm Bureau; this may be an option for CSAs. An NCAT colleague suggests The Midlands Group web site www.sustainablefarminsurance.com. Insurance options tailored to sustainable farming specifically mention CSAs. Oregon is one of the states where coverage is offered.

Permits that may be needed will vary by locality and may depend on the organization’s structure and product mix.

A useful tool is the National Agricultural Law Center’s Glossary of definitions supported by case law—especially emphasizing those arising from aspects of sustainable agriculture.

Reference:

1) Henderson, Elizabeth, & Robyn Van En. 1999. Sharing the Harvest. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company.

Resources:

AAIS staff. 2007. “Big gardens” that need CGL policies. AAISinsight. Spring. 4 p.

ATTRA Publication
Community Supported Agriculture

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