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Quick Bites: Growing greens in winter
High tunnels also known as hoop houses extend the growing season
This story is part of a special series.

Vivian Goodman
Floyd Davis in one of his high tunnel hoop houses
Courtesy of Red Basket Farm
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In The Region:
Consumers are giving more  thought to where food is grown.  For fresh taste, health benefits, and the good of the local economy, many Northeast Ohioans patronize family farmers.  To meet the increased demand, farmers are planting and harvesting even while the cold winds blow and the snowflakes fall.  For today’s Quick Bite, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman introduces us to a year-round farmer from the northeastern edge of the state.
An entrepreneur of winter farming

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Floyd Davis grew up on a family farm in Trumbull County and continued working there even after his father quit to work at a mill. Davis put himself through college selling bales of hay. He bought the 5-acre Red Basket Farm in Kinsman in 2002 and today – on that and the 15 acres he leases nearby -- he is an entrepreneur of winter farming.

Two Saturdays a month through April, you will find Davis at the Countryside Conservancy’s winter market in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Davis brings fresh produce to the winter market thanks to five domed greenhouses called hoop houses or high tunnels. Plastic film sheeting covers the metal framework that cover 20-by-96 feet and stand about 12.5 feet tall.

Farmer’s market Manager Beth Knorr appreciates the cornucopia that results.

A lot of his stuff has already been snatched up, which is a good sign that it’s been a good day,” says Knorr as she looks around the market. “But he has, as you can see, kale and collards and gorgeous broccoli, beautiful baby bok choy, more mature bok choy, winter squashes and it looks like he has some mizeneh as wel,l which is an Asian green.”   

A good investment

Davis paid $400 for the first two high tunnels he bought in 2006. Farmers now pay as much as $15,000 for plastic domes that are twice the size of his. Davis says the tunnel differs from a regular greenhouse in that it requires no heat, uses natural ventilation, and crops grow in the soil.

Davis had not realized at first how much his investment would pay off.

“Initially it was for season extension,” says Davis. “Y’know, getting stuff earlier in the season and later. But what we’ve been able to do is actually grow all season long, all winter long even. It’s been a great tool to really kind of generate more income for the farm because now we are being able to sell all year long instead of just during the summer.”

High tunnels are not a new invention. For hundreds of years farmers have been using different variations. But not many people have been using this method locally. Winter temperatures are a challenge, but Davis says that the key is to choose crop varieties that can withstand the freeze-thaw cycles.

Nothing artificial

Davis believes in sustainable agriculture and enjoys not having to use artificial heat. Inside his greenhouse, he pulls a cover over crops to hold in the heat that radiates off the group. Despite the challenges of getting enough sunshine in Northeast Ohio, this winter’s plants are thriving under the dome.

“Crops like spinach, the Asian greens like bok choy and tatsoy and komatsuna, they do very, very well,” says Davis. “Some of the root crops like carrots and parsnips will do very well because they’re growing down into the soil. Kale and collards also do quite well in the cooler environment inside the high tunnels. And they all sell very well, too.”

Grateful customers

Elizabeth Manke from Akron is a regular at the market. The friendly people and quality food draw her to the market every Saturday morning. She believes in supporting local farmers as well as organic farming and enjoys Davis’s squash and greens in particular.

Another big fan of Davis and winter farming is market manager Beth Knorr. Knorr says the Conservancy market could still operate year-round, but without anything fresh. And usually, people head straight to the leafy vegetables because nothing makes them happier than seeing something green in February.

You might see some kind of red there, too. Davis says he didn’t have enough raspberries to bring last month, but they are still growing in the high tunnel greenhouses and he hopes to pick enough to bring to the market in Bath on Feb. 18th.
-- Web story by Matt Meduri 

Related Links & Resources
Red Basket Farm web site

Countryside Conservancy Farmers' Markets webpage

Listener Comments:

Superbly written article!

Posted by: scott m (cuyahoga falls) on March 8, 2012 1:03AM
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