[Market-farming] Hi Tunnel innovations

Gary Scott twinspringsfarmva at gmail.com
Tue Jan 19 07:48:22 EST 2016


A very important point I want to address before I talk about Hi Tunnels, a
point that is rarely discussed.  I see young couples trying to farm full
time with no off farm income. Is it possible? Yes, likely NO. IMO the
biggest challenge is market access. Whether you are trying to get into the
established farm markets or break into wholesale the sale and distribution
is challenging there is lots of competition/ Doing this starting out with
no off farm income is a challenge especially if you intend to raise a

Yes there are several very successful established organic farmers here in
Virginia; however, most are established and attend multiple successful farm
markets and have grown their CSA, with multiple drop locations and
established commercial outlets. Some of the newer successful farms were
started by people who had prior careers and the resources to invest for
success, which is great we need them. My point is that before young couples
start down this road they need a business plan that includes a financial
budget. How much revenue are you going to have to have to generate and how
you going to get there ? How much startup capital?

We have been growing in Hi Tunnels (HT) for 13 years. We mainly used them
for season extension, greens during the winter for ourselves and a few
regular customers. Last year I did a Winter CSA for 20 people. They receive
a mix of Beets, Carrots, Kale, Lettuce, and Greens every two weeks. This
year I added mushrooms and fermented produce (uses my produce) from farm
partners. We expanded to 35 customers for this season, I never advertised
and turned away another 15 people. I believe the most profitable market
farming is season extension and growing throughout the winter.  Yes that
means for us working year-round. However, I am 61 and may very well move
towards not doing the markets during the market season. I find packing and
going to the farmers markets and CSAs every week way more stressful than
off season HT production.  There is the added benefit of having an abundant
supply of greens and root crops during the winter, and being able to be in
the HT during a cold winter day reduces the effect of cabin fever.

I do not heat my HTs I have 2 24' x 96' in full production. I have another
28' x 48' that is not currently in production but will be for early Spring.
We are in zone 7A but also get 6B weather because of our location, I get
very cold air that rolls off a mountain and falls on my farm because we sit
up on a knoll facing that mountain. Out HTs are not heated, I pull row
covers. Right now I have 3 layers over my greens and 2 layers over my Beets
and Carrots. We are experiencing very cold weather with last night's' low
of 7. We are expecting snow from Thursday evening through Saturday that
could accumulate up to 24". I have a commercial grade snow rack that can
reach the peaks of my HTs and pull the snow. SO if it starts collecting on
top, I go out there when it gets to about 4" and pull it off. If you are in
an area that get's snow build a Gothic HT, so you will not be doing what I
am doing !!!!

The HUGE advantage for early season production is getting ahead of other
growers, what I like to call "owning" that consumer when the market first
opens in April. I have had great success growing Corinto/Socrates Cucumbers
both are parthenocarpic (no pollination required) like Corinto the best, I
sell them for $1 each early season and can move 120 at the market. Carrots,
I have gotten good at growing Carrots in HTs. I am the first with Carrots
and I sell them in bunches weighing 3/4 - 1 LB with tops for $3 they FLY
off the table. 3) Lettuce, I grow Lettuce year-round and offer bagged mixed
and head. I also move more Beets, Carrots, Lettuce wholesale during the off
season, but not in the middle of the season when prices drop. I have a 2-4
restaurants that I sell to throughout the year.

I am reading a new book Lean Farm by Ben Hartman which is based on the
Japanese manufacturing model of Lean Manufacturing. It is an excellent book.

Gary Scott
Twin Springs Farm

*Gary Scott*
twinspringsfarmva at gmail.com
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