Penn State Extension’s High Tunnel Alliance

Posted: June 14, 2011

Penn State Extension's High Tunnel Alliance sites at Weavers Way Farm, Grumblethorpe Mansion, and the SHARE Food Program.
SHARE Food Program's Nice Roots Farm

SHARE Food Program's Nice Roots Farm

Penn State Extension staff spent the day visiting 3 of our 10 High Tunnel Alliance member’s farms.  The high tunnels, which have been constructed under the leadership of Professor Bill Lamont of the Penn  State University College of Agricultural Sciences,  are playing a big role in how urban Philadelphia farmers produce food. The tunnels are funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture; these plastic covered structures allow growers to produce more food year round.

Nicole Sugerman, farm manager of Mort Brooks Memorial Farm, a program of the Weaver’s Way Co-op, has been using her high tunnel to stage seedlings throughout the spring and is expecting the summer heat to help her cultivate hot loving melons and tomatoes this summer. When fall arrives, she will be planting greens such as kale that will live and produce all winter long and bring in cash when most of her acreage is frozen and barren.

Farm Educator Heather Zimmerman uses the 21’ by 40’ high tunnel at Grumblethorpe Historic House in Germantown to grow delicious heirloom tomatoes, basil, cucumbers and eggplant during the summer. In addition, the Grumblethorpe high tunnel hosts over a thousand visitors a year providing sustainable green education to the local community. The money made from selling local organic greens throughout the winter helps to support Grumblethorpe’s outreach programs.

SHARE Food Programs farmer Bill Shick’s high tunnel is a cornucopia of vegetables. Six foot tall tomato bushes, already laden with fruit, trellis to the high tunnel cross beams while beets, carrots, peppers and cabbage tuck in below. The high tunnel allowed Bill to harvest fully grown cabbage in the March and at the same time get a head start planting tomatoes (in March!), giving him a jump on gorgeous tomatoes for market a cool month before most local growers. Bill’s produce is donated or sold at subsidized prices to many in need.

Penn State Extension staff enjoyed seeing firsthand the structures they have nurtured into being. By the end of summer 2011 ten high tunnels will dot the city landscape helping to feed and educate a greener Philadelphia.