Saturday, March 6, 2010

New High Tunnels at Student Farm Will Allow Year Round Growing Season

The earth was solid beneath my feet except for patches of mud that clung to my boots as I walked toward three greenhouse-like structures on farmland in the southeast corner of the intersection of Lincoln Ave. and Windsor Road in Urbana.

I was heading to the student farm to do some work. I had with me a FLIP video camera, digital still camera and eager hands and was ready for instructions. It was my furlough day and the sun was shining on this near 40-degree-and-windy morning, and I was excited to learn more about these new structures that would allow for the growing of fruits and vegetables year round. Students who eat at dining services at Illinois get to eat most of them.

This is the student farm's second year of production and first year using what's known as high tunnels.

I was first inspired by the idea of student-produced locally grown produce for students at Illinois at a CCNET sponsored panel in February on local food and blogged about it here Growing Hope!

Zachary Grant, Student Farm Coordinator at the Department of Crop Sciences at Illinois, explained that these high tunnels, as they are called, are passive solar unheated greenhouses. They allow for some fruits and vegetables to be grown all year round. That's a plus for the student farm operation which sells its produce to dining services to pay for the cost of operation. Zach told me that each high tunnel cost about $12,000, including shipping. These structures are portable and the three combined are about a 1/4-acre of land.

The climate inside the high tunnel was quite temperate. We went inside for an interview. Lettuce has already been planted and is poking through. The earth was soft and crumbly to the touch, unlike the hard earth outside the tunnel. In this clip, Zach explains further the concept of high tunnels.

When I first arrived, a small group of people were attaching a plastic cover over the tunnel. I got to help guide the plastic while another group stood on the opposite side of the tunnel and pulled the plastic over the roof. The short clip below shows how that worked.

When that was done, Jeremy attached the plastic to the tunnel using wiggly wire.

If you're like me and are interested in learning more about the student farm, you can contact Zach to find out how to become more involved. And you don't have to be affiliated with the university to contribute and take home some of the harvest. Zach explains in the clip below.

If you'd like more information, you may contact Zach here:

I'm looking forward to helping out and reaping some of the produce! Maybe I'll see you there.

Kimberlie Kranich is director of community engagement at Illinois Public Media and may be reached at

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