UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — High tunnels offer an inexpensive way to extend the production season for vegetables and small fruits. They also might help eradicate a “food desert” in the southeast corner of the Keystone State, if a collaboration between Penn State Extension and community partners in Philadelphia is successful.
High tunnels consist of a galvanized metal pipe frame covered by a single layer of plastic sheeting, with plastic sides that can be rolled up and down manually to control the temperature inside the structure and thus extend the growing season and improve yield and quality.
They are ideal for producing vegetables and small fruits in urban areas, according to Bill Lamont, professor of vegetable crops in the College of Agricultural Sciences.
The College of Agricultural Sciences, through its faculty in the Department of Horticulture and extension educators in the Philadelphia office of Penn State Extension, has sought funding to support the acquisition and construction of 10 high tunnels in the city.
The high tunnels will help the following organizations to extend their farms’ growing seasons:
• SHARE’s Nice Roots Farm
• Grumblethorpe Museum and Farmstand Farm
• Overbrook Environmental Center Farm
• Methodist Home for Children’s Heritage Farm
• The Federation of Neighborhood Centers’ Teens4Good Farm
• Walnut Hill Community Farm
• Urban Girls Farm at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education
• Weaver’s Way Cooperative at the Awbury Arboretum
• Urban Tree Connection’s Neighborhood Foods Farm
• W.F Saul High School.
These high tunnels now make up the High Tunnel Alliance, a network fostered by the Penn State Extension office in Philadelphia.
With funding supplied by two USDA Specialty Crops Block Grants awarded through the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the partnership has developed high-tunnel operations that produce year-round greens, such as collards, kale and spinach and other cool-season vegetables that can be sold to the adjacent communities in the surrounding urban area.
Drip irrigation is used for watering, and crops are fed by injecting soluble fertilizers or applying organic-based fertilizers and composts, Lamont said.
Through another USDA and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Specialty Crops Block Grant, the partnership hopes to construct six more tunnels, Lamont noted. These will be located at rehabilitation-program living facilities for low-income elders, child-welfare agencies and schools.