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Ag Department Constructs High Tunnel to Extend Growing Season

Student Dining Hall to Get More Locally Grown Food, Learning Opportunities for Students Expanded

July 6, 2012

Members of the Ag Dept., College Physical Plant and student workers erect a high tunnel greenhouse at the Academic Farm on Fife. Ave.

Members of the Ag Dept., College Physical Plant and student workers erect a high tunnel greenhouse at the Academic Farm on Fife. Ave.

Wilmington College erected a greenhouse-like structure known as a “high tunnel” in order to extend growing seasons and expand learning opportunities for its students.

College employees and summer student workers recently installed the 30x72 square-foot high tunnel at WC’s Academic Farm on Fife Ave.

Monte Anderson, professor of agriculture, said the facility, which is heated only by solar energy, would allow for a 10-month growing season. It dovetails well into the College’s interests and plans to offer an academic minor in sustainable agriculture.

“Planting in February will give us a jump on the spring crop and cool weather crops like broccoli, which normally are harvested by Nov. 1, now could be in the ground into December — we could have good, fresh produce as late as Dec. 15,” he said. “When most plants are dying outside, we’re coming into production.”

Anderson said the extended growing season enhances opportunities for students to work with these crops, which are planted in the ground under the six-foot high, plastic-covered semicircular roof.

“Also, we’ll be able to continue to provide food for local food pantries throughout the year, and the College’s dining services operation is interested in obtaining fresh produce,” he said.

Anderson cited both the encouragement and financial assistance of J.R. Reid, a College trustee and Sodexo’s regional vice president for campus services. Sodexo is the College’s dining services provider.

(LEFT) Student workers even the thick plastic roof.

Reid said this structure provides WC’s agriculture students with the opportunity to advance their education in sustainable farming techniques and, additionally, to provide the College’s food services with “fresh, campus-grown” produce and herbs.

“The ability to offer locally grown items in the dining room continues the educational experience for our entire student body,” Reid said.

“I see this project as an natural extension of our Grow Food, Grow Hope Initiative, expanding the campus-wide knowledge of the importance of sustainability and self-sufficiency.

“This is a small structure with great implications for the future growth of our agriculture programs.”

Indeed, Anderson noted that another of the College’s partners, the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT), which has a regional office at WC, is interested in the Agriculture Department comparing the qualities of vegetables grown in three venues: outside during the summer, in the high tunnel and under the hydroponic conditions of providing water and nutrients, but no soil.

“We’ll do taste tests and look at the vegetables’ other qualities,” Anderson said.

The new high tunnel complements the addition of several other new structures, including a barn for hay and straw, and a sheep and goat facility, as the College consolidates on Fife Ave. facilities formerly housed on some of its other farm properties.

Anderson said the improvements are the result of College support and that from alumni and the agriculture program’s business partners.

“Our facilities probably have never been better,” he said.