[Market-farming] Hi Tunnel innovations

Shoemaker, William H wshoemak at illinois.edu
Tue Jan 19 08:25:27 EST 2016


I agree Gary. The market is where market farmers realize success, or failure. If you can't attract enough consumers to pay your bills and give you something to live off of to make it worthwhile, you'll simply descend into poverty. No one wants that, so the financial side is fundamental, whether you enjoy it or hate it. I watched so many enterprises start up over my career, and heard so many new growers tell me with enthusiasm how much they love growing things. When I would ask about a plan for marketing, to many would tell me, "I'm not worried about that. My product will sell itself." Maybe, but a plan will ensure that you are giving yourself the best opportunity for success. After all, its market farming.

Bill

William H. Shoemaker

Retired fruit and vegetable horticulturist

University of Illinois

wshoemak at illinois.edu<mailto:wshoemak at illinois.edu>

________________________________
From: Market-farming [market-farming-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] on behalf of Gary Scott [twinspringsfarmva at gmail.com]
Sent: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 6:48 AM
To: market-farming at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: [Market-farming] Hi Tunnel innovations

All,

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 family.

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
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