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Alabama Landowner Grows Produce in Winter, Models Conservation Practices

Posted by Fay Garner, NRCS Alabama in Conservation
Jan 07, 2011
l-r:  Earl Snell and James Currington inspect the tomatoes growing in Snell's hoop house.
l-r: Earl Snell and James Currington inspect the tomatoes growing in Snell's hoop house.

On a recent December day, Earl and Clarisse Snell, of Skipperville, Alabama, proudly showed off the summer squash and tomatoes they were still growing at the start of winter thanks to the seasonal high tunnel they built earlier in the year. Also called hoop houses, seasonal high tunnels look a lot like greenhouses but require no artificial energy source—all they need is natural sunlight to grow vegetables, fruits, and other crops.

The seasonal high tunnel, for which Mr. Snell received financial assistance from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), extends the growing season and helps him keep production diverse, giving the family fresh food for themselves and to sell in their community. NRCS provided the assistance as part of a pilot project to determine how effective high tunnels are in conserving water, reducing pesticide use, maintaining soil nutrients, and increasing crop yields. The pilot is offered under the Know your Farmer, Know your Food initiative, a USDA effort to connect farmers and consumers, strengthen local and regional food production, increase the use of sustainable agricultural practices, and promote consumption of fresh, local food.

Mr. Snell is already pleased with the results, saying that the seasonal high tunnel is allowing him to save money on pesticides and grow more food organically. With the help of the controlled environment of the high tunnel, he expects to harvest several types of fruits or vegetables 12 months of the year. In addition to tomatoes and squash, Mr. and Mrs. Snell envision growing peas, butterbeans, corn, watermelons, cantaloupes, flowers, and herbs.

Mr. Snell is spreading the word about the benefits of high tunnels to other farmers in his community. Using the knowledge he gained by participating in the NRCS pilot project, he actively helps others navigate the “hoops” of purchasing and constructing hoop houses on their land, so they too can grow fresh produce in the winter.

To see more on how Mr. Snell and others are benefiting from seasonal high tunnels, watch this video:

Category/Topic: Conservation