Hoophouses for Health program increasing access to Michigan Good Food

Learn more about a program that assists Michigan farmers with purchasing hoophouses and increases vulnerable children and families’ access to good food.

Hoophouses can extend the growing season for crops. Photo credit: crfsproject

Hoophouses can extend the growing season for crops. Photo credit: crfsproject

Farmers and programs are changing the perception of year-round agricultural production in Michigan. By implementing season extension techniques, such as hoophouses, farmers are able to harvest crops throughout Michigan’s winter. These structures allow farmers to plant and harvest warm season crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, earlier and later in the spring and fall. They can also plant and harvest certain cold-hardy crops throughout the winter. The ability to harvest and sell in these colder months provides farmers with additional income by increasing farm sales when outside weather conditions are too harsh.

While hoophouse production can increase the economic viability of a farm business, they are also a significant investment, particularly for small to mid-sized farms. Hoophouses for Health is one program that provides financial assistance to make this cost more attainable for farmers. This program is a shared initiative of the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, Michigan Farmers Market Association and the MSU Department of Horticulture with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

This program provides capital for farmers to build hoophouses to advance season extension capacity throughout the state while improving access to Michigan agricultural products for vulnerable children and families. By partnering with Michigan farmers markets, early childhood programs and K-12 schools this program increases access and usage of Good Food - food that is defined as healthy, green, fair and affordable by the Michigan Good Food Charter.

The program partners with community organizations, such as local Head Start programs, to distribute Hoophouses for Health vouchers to vulnerable families. These families can then use the vouchers to purchase fresh produce and other qualifying agricultural products produced by participating farmers at participating farmers markets. Community partners also assist with the promotion of the program and utilization of the vouchers. The unique aspect of this program is that participating farmers submit these vouchers as a “payment” towards their initial borrowed amount. Farmers pay back their loans through farm products instead of cash.

Starting in 2014, farmers were also able to deliver their food to early childhood care centers, schools or school districts, and use its monetary value as a “repayment” towards their loans. This strategy advances Michigan Farm to School efforts by increasing access to local, fresh food, primarily fruits and vegetables, for children through institutional food programs while also assisting farmers in gaining ownership of their hoophouse.

The 2015 application for farmers to participate in this program was launched on March 2. The application can be found on the Hoophouses for Health webpage, along with program requirements, frequently asked questions and additional programmatic information. Partner organizations can also fill out commitment forms to be considered for participating in the program.

Michigan State University Extension promotes increasing access to good food, and the year-round purchasing and production of local food throughout the state. For more information on local food systems, consider subscribing for news on community food systems and farm & farmer’s markets.

Full photo credit: “Growing Power Tour” by crfsproject, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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