Red Basket Farm uses high tunnels to extend Ohio growing season

KINSMAN, Ohio — What started out as a way to earn some extra money has grown into a full-time farm business in just over five years.

Floyd Davis’ roots take him back to a farm he grew up on in Trumbull County. He raised corn and soybeans early on and even put himself through college selling hay for horse customers.

But like many lives, his took a different turn, and he thought he wanted a different life with a job outside of farming. However, something kept pulling him toward agriculture, and he spent more than 12 years trying to get back into agriculture.

Davis bought his farm, Red Basket Farm, in 2002 and went to work planting a half acre of sweet corn and making the rest into hay. He was looking to make some extra money while he renovated the farm house.

Growth over time

The next year, he planted a little more sweet corn and vegetables. And the next year, a little more.

By 2005, he watched farmers markets start springing up, and realized more consumers wanted to know where their food was coming from.

Davis calls his success a case of “being in the right place at the right time.”

Today, Davis plants around 9 acres of sweet corn, with the last crop finishing up at the end of October. The remainder of the property is planted in produce or under high tunnels and in his one greenhouse.

Davis concentrates on farmers markets and restaurant accounts, with 95 percent of his business in the Cleveland area.

He is also involved in a growers co-op in Youngstown, the Lake to River Food Cooperative, where Humility of Mary Health Partners will be serving local goods in the cafeterias. The co-op is also trying to secure more institutions that will use local foods in the menu.

“I just saw opportunities over the years and went with it. It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of work. It’s been great,” Davis said.

Growing season

When he discovered people wanted vegetables throughout the year, he went to work building a small greenhouse and eventually high tunnels.

Davis has built two high tunnels on his property with the assistance of EQIP grants in 2009 and 2010.

The USDA EQIP funding is through the Trumbull Soil and Water Conservation District in conjunction with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. A landowner pays a portion of the cost to build a high tunnel and the grant pays for a portion of the project.

Davis built two high tunnels measuring 26-by-96 feet in an effort to raise vegetables earlier in the year and later in the season.

High tunnels

Davis produces more than 70 varieties of vegetables a year including Asian greens, eggplant and sweet potatoes. More produce is being produced year around with the use of high tunnels.

He is quick to point out that a greenhouse is not the same as a high tunnel.

A greenhouse has a heat source and plants are grown in containers.

High tunnels have no heat source and plants such as lettuce are planted directly into the ground of the high tunnel. After a crop is finished growing in his high tunnel, compost is brought into the building and incorporated into the soil. Then the next crop is planted.

Davis said he has experienced limited disease issues inside the high tunnels, compared to crops grown outside. You can also control how much water the plants receive, and plants are protected from the elements.

Focus

To grow his farm, Davis has had to change his focus. He now concentrates on trying to grow vegetables year-round.

“People love fresh vegetables in the winter,” Davis said.

Even with his growth, he’s not able to meet demand from his accounts in the winter.

The high tunnels enable to extend his growing season by as much as three months on each end of the season for many crops. He can plant produce in March and harvest all the way through December with the use of his high tunnels.

Davis said the best place for high tunnels to succeed is in areas where more sunshine is available than in the northeast portion of the country.

“If you can do it here, than you can do it anywhere in the world,” he said.

Farm to school

Davis is also a member of a pilot program with the South Euclid-Lyndhurst School District, where he provides vegetables for school lunches including the salad bar. The program is a coordinated effort between AVI Food Systems, the school and the Red Basket Farm.

This past winter, Davis was able to produce collards, kale, romaine lettuce and spinach, and used it in the school program.

“We are figuring it out as we go,” Davis said.

The best thing about the program, he says, is helping teach children where their food comes.

“It’s more than putting food into the cafeteria — it is a way to connect the dots for children,” said Davis.

Wet spring!

In a typical spring, Davis’ cucumbers, tomatoes and squash would be almost ready by now, but due to the wet weather, his vegetables are behind schedule.

He said normally he would be close to picking tomatoes and this year, as of the beginning of June, they weren’t even planted yet.

In fact, Davis said he was planting produce that normally would have went into the ground in the beginning of April, the last day of May.

Another crop suffering for Davis is the Asian greens, which include bok choy and red bok choy, popular in the Cleveland market. He said normally he would be on his second or third planting of the crop and this year he just got the first one completed.

Future

Davis said he has plans for expansion on his farm, and jokes that if he could, he would cover the entire 20 acres in plastic to extend his growing season.

But, in reality, he does hope to build two more 30-by-144 foot high tunnels by this winter.

Davis is a one-man operation with the exception of the busy summer months when he hires between two and four people, depending on the workload.

His son, Nathan, 10, also enjoys spending time on his father’s produce farm on the weekends and in the summer.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

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