With a grant from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington faculty researcher, Dr. James Farmer, hopes to help crop growers extend the growing season of produce such as tomatoes, peppers and greens in Indiana.
Dr. Farmer, an assistant professor in the department of recreation, Park and Tourism Studies in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, was awarded a $128,000 grant, one of five projects funded by the ISDA through the U.S. Department of Agriculture block grant. Dr. Farmer will work in conjunction with researchers from Purdue University to evaluate high tunnel usage for specialty crop production.
“Indiana, like most states, currently cannot meet the demand for locally produced specialty crops,” Dr. Farmer said. “This is all the more true during the colder months. The benefit of high tunnels to Indiana is economic, but they have an even greater benefit in regard to enhancing food security. Additionally, local specialty crops tend to be grown using organic and/or sustainable practices, which are more sustainable.”
A high tunnel is an unheated greenhouse, generally constructed with a metal or wooden frame covered with thick sheets of plastic, that extends the growing season by use of solar collection for temperature control. The tunnels are tall enough to walk through and allow farmers to produce crops early and late into the growing seasons.
Dr. Farmer, along with a post-doctoral student, will lead the social science data collection component of the project, while the Purdue collaborators will lead the agro-ecology research. The team will survey 400 high tunnel users, complete case studies on 16 farms and conduct specialty crop production trials in high tunnels.
Millions of dollars have been invested through cost-share programs of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Dr. Farmer said. This project will provide the first assessments of the utility and contribution of high tunnels and their production of specialty crops.
“Our project will seek to understand how farmers receiving those grants (and subsequent high tunnels) are faring in the endeavor, what makes the infrastructure a positive contributor to the farm, and what can be shared with other farmers to realize the success,” he said. “Secondly, this project seeks to understand how to increase production of specialty crops in the shoulder seasons (colder months) in order to contribute to the overall food system.”