Robin Kelley and her husband, Randy, have become the first producers in Washington County to begin producing organic produce in a "high tunnel" or "hoop house," a structure designed to help extend the growing season and control the environment to grow vegetables.
The Kelleys market the produce from their operation, Little Blue River Farm, at local farmers markets and grocery stories.
They built their high tunnel with assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is conducting a three-year trial to study how effective they are in conserving water, reducing pesticide use, maintaining soil nutrients and increasing crop yields. Their contract was made through a organic farming program with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
A high tunnel is made of plastic or metal pipe and covered with plastic. It requires no energy and relies on sunlight to modify the climate inside to create favorable conditions for growing vegetables and other specialty crops.
The Kelleys installed their high tunnel in August 2010. It is approximately 30 feet wide by 96 feet in length. Last fall they grew lettuce and mustard greens.
"Lettuce was our cash crop this winter," says Randy. "We harvested all winter and had two grocery stores buying from us. Fresh greens in the winter, unbelievable."
The main crop, however, are the tomatoes. The Kelleys are also excited about locating a buyer in Wichita who markets fresh produce in the area.
"The buyer wants all the tomatoes we can grow," says Randy.
Last year Kansas NRCS worked with 47 producers across the state that used $173,600 in financial assistance under EQIP Organic Initiative to extend the crop growing season.
Additional information specific to EQIP Organic Initiative is at www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov/programs.