As a small farm growing from the ground up, we’re at a stage where we could really utilize a high tunnel. I was reminded of this fact while watching a live Facebook video feed with Conor Crickmore from (Neversink Farm) and Diego Footer (Permaculture Voices).
Conor was talking about the benefits of high tunnels with built in end-walls and roll-up sides versus caterpillar tunnels. Finding the caterpillar tunnels a slight annoyance to get in and out of (lifting up the plastic), he also said that every three square feet of caterpillar space equates one square foot of high tunnel area. Essentially, saying he finds it three times as valuable as a caterpillar tunnel. He has often found himself converting caterpillar tunnels into high tunnels through adding the end walls,etc. This caught my attention as a farmer who has a relatively small amount of space (about ¾ acre to work with). I am always looking for ways to maximize my production while minimizing the space necessary to do so. I’ve often thought about building my own high tunnel or ordering one of those kits, and I wondered if there were programs that helped small farms like ours.
So, I decided to do a little more digging…
Here’s what I found:
After many hours of research, I found several very informative nuggets of information buried deep in the internet. It became apparent to me that there were possible funds available from the NRCS High Tunnel Initiative.
How to Get Started
Most good resource I found ended up saying that the best place to start through contacting your local NRCS agent through the Farm Service Agency (FSA). This link takes you right to your local FSA location and provides a number.
This video provided me with a great overview of the NRCS High Tunnel Initiative. It highlights the benefits of high tunnels (climate control, season extension, pest and pesticide drift), but it was nice to see them tie this initiative into a broader mission of working towards greater food security in general. That through helping our local communities create better food security, we also are saving transportation energy.
Living in the state of North Carolina, I was able to confirm that NC does participate in the EQIP program, which applies to anyone “with an interest in the agricultural and forestry operations.”
What are the Basic Eligibility Requirements?
Eligibility descriptions were broken down into two sections: eligible land and people.
Register Your Farm Before Starting Application
In NC, we need to get records established at Farm Service Agency in order to obtain a Farm and Track number by bringing a copy of our deed showing ownership of land. The records would need to reflect that we:
Regarding the processing of applications:
The local NRCS agent I spoke with said that the applications are processed in “batching periods” based on the number of applicants and also funding pool (national, state or local). The representative made it a point to tell me that they always welcome applications at any time, even if they are not in a “batching period.” I think I got that right. I repeated “batching period” back to him a few times and I’m pretty sure we confirmed that’s what he was saying.
After getting approved, you’ll be asked to consult with an NCRS conservation planner to develop an “EQUIP plan of operations that addresses at least one natural resource concern.” These concerns could relate to:
Once you’re approved and have gotten in contact with your NCRS conservation planner, they’ll work with you to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s.
Can the NRCS High Tunnel Initiative be used for Hydroponics or Aquaponics?
Can the NRCS High Tunnel Initiative be used for Flower Production?
Not long after watching and participating ( I actually was able to get Diego and Conor to answer a question I had about using insect netting inside of high tunnel structures), I ran across the NRCS high tunnel initiative on one of Justin Rhodes’s youtube shows. I have included his interview video and others I found in the section below.
Other videos and stories on NRCS Experiences
Additional NRCS Resources
Comment below with your NRCS experience!
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- Titus Boucher
Contributor, Bootstrap Farmer & Co-Operator, Locavore Market Garden