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 a tunnel design 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 a flexible, efficient design that could be tailored to the needs of each family’s land availabilities.
The “Homestead High Tunnels” we are manufacturing are 12 foot wide x 40 foot long x 7 foot high. The length of the tunnel is flexible, height is somewhat flexible, and width is mostly fixed in the current design. 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 design works. That is truly the determining factor of success with this design- a quality product that meets or exceeds its planned purpose.
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.