The Most Valuable of All Arts

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Last weekend I had the good fortune to participate in the Midwest Winter Production Conference in Joplin, MO. The conference brings together small family farmers to share their experiences producing year round vegetables by employing high tunnels, hoop houses and row covers. This was really big for me. Yes, it’s true I don’t get out much, but stick with me folks, this is exciting stuff.

High tunnels, like hoop houses and row covers are, unheated, Quonset-like structures that extend the growing season an extra month in spring and again in the fall. This reduces growing downtime to only December and January.  That’s not all; high tunnel farming allows cole crops to be readily available through the down months of December and January. The trick is to have the cole crop up to 75% maturity before heat and light requirements become too low for normal growth. The crops will continue to grow, slowly and only on sunny days, but stay in excellent condition while waiting to be harvested.

It gets even better; high tunnels reduce the effects of dramatic climate swings we are experiencing today. I’m not done yet, these innovative breed of farmers are bringing life back to a cherished, dying American institution — the family farm. This is accomplished by selling directly to their communities. Goodbye middleman, hello fresh, healthy food for the local community and a living wage for the farmer. Farmers need money too, or they can’t keep farming. No farms, no food. That’s a big deal.

The time spent with an energetic, determined group of farmers was exhilarating. These creative, down to earth pioneers are a shining example of American ingenuity.  Unfortunately, farmers consist of less than two percent of the population, and winter production farmers are only a small fraction of that two percent. Food insecurity is real. Add exploding population growth and climate change into the mix, and that is putting a lot on the backs of the 2%. Fortunately, anyone who wishes can grow some amount of food. The Victory Gardens of the 21st century? We’ll see.

Abraham Lincoln, in his address to the Wisconsin State Agriculture Society in 1859, prophesized, “Population must increase rapidly — more rapidly than in former times — and ere long the most valuable of all arts, will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil. No community whose every member possesses this art, can ever be the victim of oppression of any of its forms. Such community will be alike independent of crowned-kings, money-kings, and land-kings.”  Abe nailed it.

For more fun and information go to: Foundation Farm