As part of our mission at Grow Appalachia to help families in central Appalachia grow as much of their own food as possible and become healthier and more food secure, we are constantly searching for technologies that will enhance vegetable production. One technique we are working with extensively is that of manufacturing and building high tunnels. A high tunnel is a season extension tool that facilitates the production of fresh vegetables twelve months a year. The benefit comes from the ability to manage the growing environment – temperature, irrigation, light (to some extent) and weather extremes. This element of control provides an opportunity to grow quality vegetables in a more consistent and planned manner.
We have designed and are now manufacturing two different high tunnel designs well-suited for central Appalachia. The challenge in central Appalachia is the limited amount of flat crop land. Tillable areas in the mountains are usually small areas of creek bottom land or small tracts on hillsides that have been worked and improved for generations. No two tracts are the same, so we needed flexible, efficient designs that could be tailored to the needs and opportunities of each family’s land.
The two types of “Homestead High Tunnels” we are manufacturing are a Quonset design and a Gothic Design. Both designs are framed with galvanized steel pipe and use high-quality, USDA approved greenhouse plastic. The Quonset tunnel is a simple design that features rounded hoops that form a uniformly curved roof over the tunnel. The standard dimensions of a Quonset tunnel are 12ft wide x 40ft long x 7ft high. The Gothic design is a larger, slightly more complex design that features a peaked roof that forms a gothic arch. This design allows the tunnel to shed snow more efficiently and offers more headspace along the sides of the tunnel. The standard dimensions of a Gothic tunnel are 15ft wide x 48ft long x 9ft high. The lengths of both designs are flexible in 4-foot increments, height is somewhat flexible, and width is mostly fixed in the current designs. Our tunnels do not require that the land be completely level. In fact, for a few of our installations we have completed, the site was far from level! Most importantly, the designs works. That is truly the determining factor of success with these designs- two quality products that meets or exceeds their recipient’s needs and planned purposes.
Grow Appalachia did not do this alone. We conducted research and looked at tunnel designs available in retail markets and those constructed at the University of Kentucky’s South Farm. We sat down and drew up the plans we thought would work, but the real design enhancements that make these so effective came through working with folks across central Appalachia. These families were not engineers, architects, or agriculture majors. They are the resourceful people of Appalachia. Our success in this project should be credited to the determined, hardworking families we have had the opportunity to work with.
If you are interested in having one of our high tunnels for your farm or garden, you can contact our Technical Director, Mark Walden or our High Tunnel Specialist, Christopher McKenzie. We deliver our high tunnels within 100 road miles of Berea, Kentucky. We can work with you on funding your high tunnel through loan programs or grants that are available from the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA. If you are within our service area, we can help you assess your land for suitable sites for the tunnels and make recommendations based on your goals and production needs.