Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Let's Get This Growing! The Continuing Saga of Acquiring an EQUIP High Tunnel

Wow, August of 2018 will mark my 10 year anniversary of breaking ground and diving into commercial farming. The above photo was taken right after the ground had been run over with a disk, rained on for 5 inches and then later tilled. It was right before we'd spread composted horse manure and used the little tiller and hoes to make rows.

The color of the soil, a light brown, is clearly indicative of how sandy the soil is here at Eden's. Contrary to the dark, "black gumbo" that most of Dallas County "enjoys", my farm is sitting on a deposit of soil quite unlike anything I'd ever grown in before.

As I've covered in past blog entries, growing on sandy soil has its challenges. Trying to keep nutrients available to your plants during flooding winter and spring rains, among one of the greatest.

Heavily mulching helps, to some degree, but even then, when the flooding keeps coming over and over, that mulch is often washed away, down the footpaths, with a lot of the topsoil.

The water rushes down those footpaths and erodes the rows' edges away, leaving little in the way of a solid bed on which to grow healthy plants; without first re-establishing the soil's biology. This process takes time, and so expensive organic amendments are added to aid the current season's crops.

If you'll remember, last year I was finally approved for a high tunnel through the USDA's NRCS EQUIP program. (Geez, how's that for a bunch of acronyms?) And of course, it comes right in the middle of peak growing season, when a farmer has nothing else to do than sit down and fill out paperwork, hunt down lenders (because it's not actually FREE, you have to pay for it up front, then be reimbursed from the USDA after inspection and approval), get it selected and ordered, find a contractor to put it all together at the time you can have it delivered, actually then have it delivered, inspected and then money is made available to you. So, yes, timing is everything. Unless your flush with a little over 10k.

Fellow farmer and friend Bev Thomas of Cold Springs Farm ran into a jam last summer upon being approved for her EQUIP tunnels and a bit of a, well, we'll call it a mix-up, with the FSA loan she'd worked for months to secure. (I'm guessing she might have a different way of describing the whole event, but I'll leave that to her.)

However, in doing so and mentioning the struggle to me, I remembered dealing with the DFW branch of Slow Money Texas and thought maybe they could help her out. So, I reached out to them and they put her in touch with a group out of Austin, the Austin Foodshed Investors.

So once I finally got through the fiasco of the much colder than I expected fall season, which followed a much warmer than normal early fall season, the holidays and a terrible cold I couldn't seem to shake, I, too reached out to these folks for help securing what they call,
"Small Batch Capital To Local Food Companies" so I could finally get my high tunnel ordered, installed and get growing in it in time for the 2018 season. 

Approx what my tunnel will look like
So far, the process had been less than seamless with my original NRCS agent taking a tumble and being out of commission for several months. My application may or may not have been delayed, but upon a conversation with some folks at last year's TOFGA conference, a new agent showed up in my driveway two days after the event ended. My conservation plan was updated and the application was approved within a few more weeks. Thank you, Michael. 

So now I'm on my way to join the ranks of hundreds of other farmers using season extending and more importantly in my case, soil protecting, equipment, in which to grow Real Food. 

I'm excited to see the results and quite honestly, I can't wait to get to hang out in my little plastic wonderland on days like today when the outside temp is below freezing. One of my favorite jobs before moving to Dallas from Chicago was a part time gig I had at the park district's conservatory and greenhouses. Winter raged outside, but in those greenhouses it was as warm as a cool day on a tropical island. I loved it. And I'm really looking forward to the benefits of having one in which to grow delicious vegetables for both my market customers and CSA members.  

Farmer Bev tells me it'll change my world, having a high tunnel in which to grow crops. And the bonus of getting a bit of a head start with the warmer soil gained under protection of the plastic, is pretty cool, too.

Keep it here and I'll chronicle the process. 

Hope to see you at this year's TOFGA conference, too. We can compare notes on growing, and I'll introduce you to Jarred and his company, so you can get your small batch loan, too.


Eat Your Food - Naturally!