How To Get A High Tunnel For Free In The USA | Grow Food!

in homesteading •  last year

High tunnels are used as season extenders to grow fruits, vegetables and other crops. They’re also known as hoop houses and are the younger sibling of the greenhouse.


They’re an incredible boon to homesteaders, market gardeners, hobby gardeners, farmers, and anyone wanting to grow their own food year round. This year we got a USDA grant that completely pays for the purchase and install of a high tunnel of up to 2,000 sq ft. In this article, we’re going to tell you how you can do this too!

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High Tunnels

High tunnels can effectively extend the growing season and allow plants to grow and produce earlier in the spring and later in fall. This is achieved by creating a protected environment using a layer of thick UV resistant plastic stretched over a series of large hoops. They come in many different sizes, shapes and styles.

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(Row Cover is used in high tunnels to protect crops even more in winter.)

HOW TO GET A HIGH TUNNEL FOR FREE IN THE USA

The government’s use of money is not a subject I care to delve into, but I get pretty peeved when I consider how much is wasted on war, chemical subsidies and bureaucratic inefficiencies… We’re quite thankful to be able to use some of the money for building a more resilient food economy and a brighter future.

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We received funding through the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) to purchase and erect a high tunnel on our land.

This is thanks to an initiative started by Michelle Obama to support farmers and increase the quality of growing conditions. One such way is through awarding grants to food producers to enable season extension. (See their website for more.)

For this high tunnel grant the stipulations are that we:

  1. Purchase a high tunnel kit (as opposed to building one ourselves).
  2. Use the structure to grow food.

We were waiting for the catch, but really there aren’t any besides the simple guidelines to

• Commit to growing food in it for 5 years.
• Only grow food in it – no tables.

There are no rules about

• What you do with what you grow.
• What you can grow
• How you grow or other practices.

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(We're excited to grow heat loving crops like ginger, as pictured here.)

First Steps

We had heard from several of our friends who had been funded for this project in prior years. They were happy with the opportunities this grant opened up (the erection of up to 2,000 square feet of protected growing space). The protected space has helped them produce even more high quality organic produce to feed themselves and their community.

Register Your Farm

The first step for us was registering our farm through the USDA. We were slightly wary of what this entailed, and the possibility of government involvement or interference on our land. We weighed our options and opted in. It is really only a simple process that registers our property as a farm, nothing that gives control over to the USDA.

It took about 15 minutes and didn’t cost us a thing. This is a part of how the USDA creates a statistical database which policies and funding are based on. And hey, what’s the worst that could happen from registering another small organic farm in the database?

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Site Visit from USDA Local Agent

All we did from there was send an email to our local USDA agent and arrange for a site visit.

She represents both the USDA and the state’s Natural Resource and Conservation Service. When she came and walked our land, we gave her a tour and she took some GPS coordinates. She asked what our plans and intentions were and we went from there. She genuinely wanted to help and support us to achieve our goals and realize our dreams. Soon after the first visit, she informed us that we qualified for the high tunnel grant.

At first the task of obtaining grant money seemed daunting, but it was way easier than we anticipated.

We had some ideas of being limited, having an agent dictate what we were and weren’t able to do. We were pleasantly surprised when the expectations of us were set really low. The USDA has no jurisdiction on our land in terms of management practices, crop selection or any other aspect of how we choose to inhabit this land.

The only criteria for this grant was that we grow food (or even flowers or medicine)!

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We looked over the opportunity in front of us and decided to go for it.

We reviewed the grant stipulations with the agent and the contract we were asked to sign. It basically said that we agree to grow food in the ground or in raised beds and not use tables or containers.

As winter nears its end we are getting ready to place our order with a local high tunnel manufacturer.

The process is landing for us now as we walk the site and design layout for the high tunnel. A plan for installing a rocket mass heater for supplemental heat is unfolding and management strategies are being developed.

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How you too can get funded to build a high tunnel.

Inquire at your local USDA extension office about your state’s EQIP opportunities or similar initiatives. Many states (like our home state of Missouri) are over funded, meaning there’s more grant money than grant participants. This translates to the approval of almost all applicants. I can’t speak for other states, but it may be worth investigating your options.

If you don’t own land, you can obtain a grant with the land owner’s permission. These grants are funded to get folks growing more food. A few phone calls or emails could mean receiving grant money to build a high tunnel and take your food cultivation to the next level.

We see this grant as a great opportunity to put some government money to good use and try something we may never have endeavored (like erecting a 1500 square foot high tunnel)

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(Tomatoes growing in a High Tunnel, a common commercial crop)

Also know that you don't have to put a 2,000 sq ft high tunnel up. You get paid $4.60 for every square foot UP TO 2,000, but you can do one much smaller if that suits your fancy.

Thanks for reading! We'll be putting ours up in the next couple months and of course will document it on STEEMIT :D

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Wonderful, we'll be looking out for your posts about it. We heard about the grant last year and started researching.

We talked to our extension agent about it and it seemed to us that we would have to follow some soil erosion/soil conservation policies and that they would be inspecting our place.

Our land is sloped and currently heavily wooded. Not to mention, very rocky. We've been preparing small areas slowly by hand with no heavy equipment, just a small Kubota tractor which doesn't help much but to carry brush away.

We're planning on getting our land the way we want it then getting the grant so it doesn't affect our choices on how we handle the forested areas versus the cleared areas.

We built a small low high tunnel haha. The chickens are in there but it doesn't really stay warm in there when the nights are below freezing. Although it warms up fast in there when the sun's up.

This is 7-ft tall and 10x25. Cost about 1k not including labor. The expense was mostly for the wiggle wire and the anti-condensate film. Treated lumber for foundation and planned on turning them into 2-ft tall raised beds. With the USDA's program, you can't have more than a ft tall raised bed(?). Not sure if they're going to come inspect that so we decided to do our own thing.

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I'd be interested on how you all set up the rocket mass heater.

that post was like porn to me :) One day i will have a polytunnel exactly like that somewhere, maybe even floating! thanks for adding to the manisfestation, thats a great idea that is possible to get it for free too.. just hope they supply proper oldschool seeds with them also because imagine its a great way to get people to grow food, BUT what where are the seeds from. What i mean is, that if people have GM seeds and these huge beautiful tunnels start popping up everywhere, then we are producing more bad foods and being tricked into thinking that we are helping for the good. Good luck man! love what your doing. Big love

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Lol, never thought we’d be part of the porn industry. So happy you enjoyed reading. Ooh, floating high tunnel, Interesting. It’s definitely positive to take govt $ and put it to good use.

The beauty is that the owner is responsible for seeds and all aspects of cultivation, and you’re not allowed to do hydro. Plus everyone we know in MO uses organic practices and OF COURSE non GMO seeds. Very valid and important point you make. No GE zucchinis will be growing in this tunnel.

Best of luck with the manifestation of your dreams

By the way @mountainjewel is written by a female and make couple. We both write comments and posts so you never know who you’re gonna get 😉

Thank you for this great information. I had no idea that the government provided grants for high tunnels. I plan to take advantage of this program in the future.

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A true pleasure to share. Glad to hear you’ll be using this info. Hope it works out for you.

I had farmer friends of mine get a grant similar to this from SARE. Do you need to actually go to market and sell your food in order to qualify for this one?

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Do you need to actually go to market and sell your food in order to qualify for this one?

Nope! Which is awesome because that takes a lot of pressure off...

We may do some research grants through SARE relating to heating the high tunnel and therefore extending the season enough to grow some rare crops!

Wow @mountainjewel, thank you so much for this precious information!

Gongratulations on your grant, this is very good news. Our family in Alaska have high tunnels from grant money but for some reason I thought it was just an Alaskan thing.

We will for sure apply for this as soon as possible. Thank you again so so much.

Ps: Do you think we should put in a well before applying?

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Happy to hear it’s touched you. Thank you, it is great news. Yes, apply ASAP because the process can take a while.

As for the well, that’s up to you. They usually are not free, haha. You could always present the option of gutters on high tunnel into cistern for irrigation if you’re asked about it. All the best!

This is great! So glad I read your article before heading off to bed tonight. We, too, are in Missouri, and we wouldn't mind dipping into a government surplus of grant money for a high tunnel!

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We, too, are in Missouri, and we wouldn't mind dipping into a government surplus of grant money for a high tunnel!

Yeah! So glad you saw it before you went to bed :) That's ^^ how we feel, too! Let us know if you have questions. Last we checked, there was a lot of $$ in the Missouri pool.

I crave the day when I come and visit you and your high tunnel, and meet your resident plants. These images resemble the "cold frames" I'm familiar with, and they might be identical to yours, but with a different name. I had the good fortune of co-managing an organic produce farm in Montana, where we put up two of these. So much to say and share about that experience, but just quickly: they work nicely in the summer months too–we opened the sides for ventilation with a long steel rod that could wind up the walls. Somewhere I have some notes that might be useful to you. I was a thorough record-keeper, as was required for our organic certification. Love this. Love you.

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Yes <3 if you're ever coming through our neck of the woods let us know!

We are a little concerned about the heat in our hot hot summers. Our friends have the wind up the walls-thing going on and that seems to help some. We may get a shade cloth. Would love to hear any useful notes you would love to send our way, and also any feedback from your organic cert. We got that grant, too, and would love to hear how it went for you. Sometimes I'm not sure it's worth it. Thanks for this ~~~ Much love

Very, very good info to know! I should look into this!

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Please do check it out, the more people that benefit the better off we all are. Happy to share the good news.

Wow! This is a lot of great and helpful information. It also seems a lot easier than I expected it would be. I will definitely be checking into this where we live to see if we can get one. Two questions I had is do you know how much it costs to install one of the hoop houses and what happens after the 5 year period? Do they still continue to come and checkout the hoop house?

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Two questions I had is do you know how much it costs to install one of the hoop houses and what happens after the 5 year period?

The prices vary depending on size and type. The grant's pay back of $4.60 per square foot is over double what they go for. We're looking at http://www.zimmermanshightunnels.com/ and these specs seem to be pretty reasonable nationwide.

After the 5 yr period, the grant period is over and there are no rules. You can bring in tables, grow in hanging pots, etc.

Do they still continue to come and checkout the hoop house?

Nope. Your contract is finished!

:D

Very nice. More people, with yards, should take advantage of this opportunity. Too bad you are not allowed to put a table in there. That would be a good place to sit to get away from it all for awhile. Still, growing your own food, is pretty rewarding.

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Yeah! the table thing confused us too! These microclimates are such nice places to spend time...

Still, growing your own food, is pretty rewarding.

Indeed :D

Awesome! Thanks for sharing this great program. I can't wait to be able to do it myself. (I don't have any land to do it on yet.)
 

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you can do it on other people's land too, with landowner's permission- not sure if that is something you could or would want to do.. but it is possible! good luck!

This is so cool. I live in the suburbs so obviously it is not for me. When I am older and still young at heart, I will move somewhere which may be as beautiful as your place. Then I shall erect.

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Not so obvious to me... I think you too can erect one even in the suburbs. Depending on zoning you may be able to get a high tunnel up in your yard. I’ve seen it many times, maybe not a 30x90 footer though! If not high tunnel certainly a low tunnel. Do you like to garden?

Wow.. This is beautiful and the future..
It will do well in Africa ... You just got a follow so that I can be getting updates from you about this project.

Keep up the good work!

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Glad we’re connected now. Where in Africa do you live? We’ll for sure be posting as we progress. Thanks for stopping by.

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Nigeria

Thank you for this resource! Looking forward to build one once I have the land and other means. Best of luck on your journey and continue to keep us posted.

Good looking out!

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awesome!! glad to tip you off to it! everyone who wants one should know about it. thanks for your well wishes. best luck on your journey as well :D

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Any plans on what you will be growing? @mountainjewel

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ooooh yes... we're really excited about extending the season for perennial crops (fruits and tubers) that don't quite love to grow in our zone... also things like ginger, turmeric and other semi tropical things!!! wooo!!

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Ginger and turmeric for the win!!! throw some dragon fruit in there. Looking forward to learning more my friend

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find a property that has been empty for years , and use the garden!

That is so awesome! We have been trying to figure out how to convert our existing parking structure into a greenhouse. My husband has also been really interested in building a rocket stove in the greenhouse, so I am really eager to see what you guys come up with! So excited for you!

As for us, I'll be honest having any govt person walking my land makes me cringe. I don't know if I could get past that, but I am super stoked for you guys and looking forward to seeing your bountiful harvests!

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I Like the idea of using the parking structure as a growing space. Is it one of those metal frames?
The rocket stove should be a fun project that we will for sure share in detail. It’s simply such a grassroots and efficient way to heat a space.

As for govt , I can totally relate. At first we had trepidations, but when we asked about control or jurisdictions we found the only limits were directly linked to the grant. If you are more interested and have any detail question feel free to ask, cause a cringing feeling of govt agents is a natural response.

Thanks for the kind support and feedback. We too are looking forward to bountiful harvests!

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So, I got nominated for this gardening challenge where I have to write 7 gardening articles and I get some one on one mentoring from @goldendawne. Pretty exciting! Anyway, I thought of you because in preparation for my first article I pulled out all my gardening books and among them was a rocket mass heater book. Over the last few years we've never found folks who even knew what these were. I keep finding things in your posts that resonate so much with what our family is doing too. Do you happen to be on Discord? I wanted to send you the link to my post, but I feel like I've commented on your posts with links to my posts several times and realized it might appear spammish. Totally not my intention. Just a fan of yours. 😉

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Oh no worries! We are on discord but as we’re traveling I’m just on my phone and it’d prob be easier if you just put it here ;) preciate you being conscientious! Xo

This is awesome and I'm already registering as a farm. I dug a huge, deep garden for this very purpose today. Thank you thank you thank you

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Sweeet! So happy you hear you’re moving ahead. It makes me so happy to hear that sharing our story has helped spread the word of this initiative. All the best with the grant. Happy gardening 😊

High tunnels are pretty cool. I would love to have at least a few big ones LOL. The rocket stove mass heater is a great idea. Should be able to keep that warm over the winter. Have you ever looked into the ideas behind a "soil battery"?

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They are sweet. Just a few big one hehehe.

I hope the rocket stove will well. I have come across a soil battery, we actually knew a man in Taos who was building many for the Pueblo there, but it’s probably beyond the scope of what we’re endeavoring here.

Have you looked much into it?

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I have looked into it but never tried to build one. I have some ideas for if I was ever going to try it. I think that it would definitely require another heat source than just the sun over the summer... The concept is solid in my mind but I would definitely go at it without the idea of it being a passive heating system. Some point in my life I will build one though!!

Gonna pass this post along to my parents. This is awesome!

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Awesome!! love it! <3

Thanks for sharing great info! This has been on our radar for awhile now too and I'm glad you're letting others know about this grant. We've met a few farmers who went through the process and have said very good things, including that they don't really check up on you later. I love the idea of putting in a rocket stove. Excited to see this coming to fruition for you!

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Success! We're definitely hoping to turn folks like you to the opportunity. I really hope that if it stays on the radar it will manifest for you. Glad you're excited about it, we certainly are!

If you register you place as a farm can you still qualify for the homesteaders tax cut? This is amazing to me I would love to have a green house. I'm also in MO. SW MO Newton county. I just need to talk to my extension office to get the ball rolling?

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Hmm I'm not aware of this homesteaders tax cut! interesting! can you tell me more?

Awesome! Didn't realize you were also in MO. Yes, get in touch with your local extension office. If they aren't familiar with it, I can get you in touch with our agent and she could perhaps help things along. (I already asked her if I could send localish people to her and she said yes) :)

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I tried to google but couldn’t find it. First you had to have been living at your “homestead” for four years and you can get tax exempted from paying your county school tax and several other things it’s worth looking into we just don’t hit the four year mark until July so haven’t completely found out all details.

This is incredible!!!! I forwarded your post to my hubby! I know as soon as he reads it tomorrow he will say " LET'S DO IT!". 😂😂😂

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awesome!!! hope it works out for you! it's really an awesome thing :)

I am definitely interested in this myself, I have a small farm (at least I call it a farm at 6 acres) and in Missouri myself. I am working to get going on doing organic gardening on it with around 60 fruit trees so far and several vegetable gardens. I purchased a greenhouse from Harbor Freight and didn't support it to withstand wind, one day was quite windy and pretty much destroyed it which I am working to repair.

But I plan on looking into this. I don't like the idea of government involvement in what I am doing but like you were saying what can be bad about registering another organic farm? I sort of need to be registered for tax purposes anyway being a good part of my income goes back into it. As long as the gubbermint doesn't start dictating how I do things I have no issues with it.

The Ag business here in MO is sort of a sacred cow and is well protected. I don't mind the protections but I don't like mandates.

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Update: I went in to the local USDA office and talked with the guy in charge of EQIP just to see what it would amount to and what steps I need to take. He of course told me the first thing was to register the property as a farm which I did a few hours later because I didn't have my deed with me. They were quite helpful there actually giving me info on different things because I am raising fruits and vegetables. Just different loans and insurance that I could get because of this type of farming when I go into doing it commercially. I am still getting started but that is my ultimate plan. Once I get all the paperwork done I should be on my way because of the info you gave here was quite helpful. I wasn't planning on getting the government involved in any way but if they are handing out money for something without obligating me to anything other than to keep track for 4 years I can't hardly say no to that. Also with my putting a large chunk of my income into what I am doing while deducting it off my taxes then I need to be legit as possible so that there are no questions as to what I am doing here.

Thanks again for you info, extremely helpful!

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awesome!! don't know how i missed this days ago, but very happy to read of your great experience! yeah, we don't feel the gubberment threat is very high as far as this is concerned... it's a low risk involvement-- it's all about those local relationships, then you're talking with people, not "ideas"! best to you! cool!

cool

Just don't grow chickens in them when you have said in the grant that you were going to grow vegetables.

a very good idea to plant, I want to try it, I am very inspired with you @mountainjewel

Wow amazing and good photography

This is an inspiring post for me as a newer homesteader. I have an 80x100 garden, bout I also have beehives and the hives are having a hard time surviving winter. I could put them in one of these and grow flowers in winter and I wonder how they would do? Any ideas?

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Hum, intersting idea about the hives. My suggestion would be to look at hive design and genetics when addressing why the bees don’t survive. Where do you get your bees? How thick are the hive walls? Do you wrap hives and reduce entrance in winter? How much honey do they go into winter with? Lots to consider here, but glad to have inspired you through this post. Cheers

Thank you, and great job!

This info is amazing, I wish I had found the article swiftly enough to upvote it! I'll be re-steeming and following now!

<3

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ah awesome! and thank you so much! we will have more how to get things free posts soon :) hehe <3 thanks for all!

following you now too! "i comment back" lol : key to success here!

i think you are the first steemian i have meet that also resides in Missouri. Very nice write up.

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oh awesome to meet another missourian! there are actually A LOT of us here!! stick around and they'll come out of the woodwork <3 :)