CINCINNATI — The United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will offer a new opportunity to those interested in growing urban and rural produce in the Greater Cincinnati area to apply for financial and technical assistance for high tunnel systems, commonly referred to as hoop houses.
Imagine the delicious taste of baby spinach freshly harvested from your own garden – in Cincinnati – all winter long. Impossible, right? Not anymore. High tunnels make growing vegetables possible long after the first frost.
A high tunnel sits over top of the garden. Arch shaped aluminum poles support removable heavy plastic sheets that trap heat from the sun, warming the air. Most have a peak height that allows an adult to stand easily with room to spare. They look similar to greenhouses except plants grow in the ground instead of in pots.
High Tunnels usually cost a few thousand dollars, making them unaffordable for most people who don’t grow food for profit. The Natural Resources Conservation Service created the Cincinnati Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative so that more people can grow fresh vegetables longer while managing water and pests effectively.
With this new assistance from NRCS, urban and rural area farmers can build high tunnels, many in or near community gardens in residential areas. With 25 percent of Cincinnati’s population living in a food desert, high tunnel systems will allow growers to cultivate and harvest fresh produce in all but the coldest months, providing a source of nutritious food closer to where people live.
High tunnel systems not only benefit people, they protect the environment too. The plants grown in a high tunnel need fewer pesticides and nutrients, improving plant health and soil quality. Growing and purchasing food locally also improves air quality by decreasing fuel use for transportation.
Cincinnati is on the forefront of providing opportunities for diversified farming operations by offering more flexibility in allowing farming practices within the city limits. Applicants approved for a high tunnel system must adhere to local zoning and building requirements for high tunnel systems. Applicants must also have control of the land where the high tunnel system will be installed.
NRCS will accept applications for funding until March 20, 2020. To apply for a high tunnel system, contact NRCS at 513-718-9340. Ms. Lori Lenhart will assess proposed high tunnel sites and help applicants through the application process.
–USDA NRCS Ohio