High tunnels: Real farmers, real stories

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WOOSTER, Ohio – Think the high tunnel growing concept is a little out there? Traditional farmers, not just organic or hobby farmers, are getting into it, and making giant strides in fruit and vegetable production.
Drawn in. Last year was Wayne County farmer Fred Finney’s first experience with growing 12 varieties of fruits and 25 types of vegetables in a high tunnel.
Finney’s got more than 30 years in the produce business, operates two farm markets and also has a pick-your-own operation, plus helped start the Mount Hope produce auction. The thought of having an extended growing season pulled him in.
“Last spring I ate tomatoes I grew in my high tunnel before my friend in California had,” any locally grown fruits, Finney said.
And this summer, Finney got a higher premium on tunnel-grown tomatoes than he did on black raspberries. Both instances spoke to him on the value of this high tunnel concept.
“When you see this, you just think of the possibility,” he said.
Going organic. Amishman Rob Schlabach works his high tunnels around the family’s grass-based seasonal dairy. It’s profitable, he says, and it meshes with labor diversion.
The cows freshen in the spring and are dried off in January, when the Schlabachs get to work in starting tomatoes and preparing the ground inside the high tunnels.
And then in August, after the cows settle back into milking and the calves are growing, the family goes back into the high tunnels to plant Romaine and Bibb lettuce, which they cut in November.
“Every year is a learning curve. I have a feeling we haven’t even tapped into the barrel of things we can do with these tunnels,” he said.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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