Helping U.P. farmers extend the growing season

Farmers in the U.P. are invited to apply for grants of up to $12,000 each to install a hoop house or other propagation structures that will extend their growing seasons.
Funds can be used for the materials and labor to build a hoop house, high tunnel or similar structures. The grants include access to technical assistance for construction and food safety training. 

The grant program is offered through U.P. Food Exchange, in partnership with Upper Peninsula Food as Medicine Team and funded by the Superior Health Foundation. The program will award up to $12,000 to one farm from each of the U.P.’s three regional planning districts.

What’s a hoop house or high tunnel: Hoop houses, also known as high tunnels, are passive solar greenhouses that extend the production season for crops by allowing farmers to plant fruits and vegetables earlier and harvest later in the year than possible if they were growing without the structures. They are especially valuable to farmers in cold climates such as the U.P. to better meet demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables, according to Michigan State University Extension. Many crops popular at farmers’ markets, such as tomatoes and peppers, do best when grown in a high tunnel. 

“I can't say exactly who put the first hoop houses in around the U.P.,” says Sarah Monte, outreach director at the Marquette Food Co-op and UPFE member, “but they certainly became very popular and more common in the early 2000s. They are now considered pretty much essential for having a successful farm in the U.P.”

Cost is the downside: But while hoop houses are an important tool to make local food more accessible throughout the year, they are one of the bigger expenses for a farm.

“Farm debt is a huge problem across the country,” Monte says. “Even small-scale farming requires taking on a high amount of debt that is difficult to pay back, especially with an income that varies seasonally. 

So much capital goes into just purchasing land, seeds, and necessary supplies that it can be hard to then also invest in a hoop house, she says. “UPFE is thrilled to be working on a project that helps minimize or remove a financial barrier for our area farms. All of us in the community benefit when local farms succeed,” she says.

A variety of configurations are eligible for consideration. But “because of snow load, we suggest that farms pick a gothic shape and W trusses for their application to be competitive,” Monte says. Projects of all sizes and costs are eligible but applicants must plan to make up the cost difference if the price tag exceeds the grant award. 

Why it matters:  Access to fresh fruits and vegetables is a vital component of the Food as Medicine Collaborative’s Prescription for Health Program, which awards vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables to people at risk for or diagnosed with a chronic health condition who also have an economic barrier to purchasing fresh produce.

The Food as Medicine team recognizes that to ensure there is adequate produce at area farmers markets across the U.P., area farms must also receive support to expand their operations and increase the volume of their produce production.

Currently, one in seven — approximately 14 percent of U.P. residents — lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable nutritious food. 

“With the national average at 10.5 percent, the local numbers are significant,” says Tammy Rosa, nutrition program manager at the Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress.

 “UPCAP participates in many community initiatives throughout the region and is very excited to be a part of this collaboration of partners,” Rosa says, “working to improve the food security of residents with economic barriers, while building a stronger regional food system.”

Who is paying: Funds for the hoop house grant program were awarded to the Food as Medicine team, a collaborative group of organizations from across the Upper Peninsula, to create a Prescription for Health Program and distribute mini grants to farms for infrastructure improvements that will support the production and distribution of fresh, locally grown produce. 

The U.P. Food Exchange is a local food hub that coordinates and supports local food activities in the UP, serving as a resource portal for farmers, businesses and institutions looking to actively participate in their local food system. U.P. Food Exchange is handling the aspects of the grant related to the farm infrastructure grant program and farmers markets.

To apply for a grant: Applications are currently available, and the deadline for submission is 5 p.m. March 27, 2024. Awards of the three grants will be announced April 3; project completion deadline is September 20, 2024. To learn more and to access the grant application, click here

Previous recipients of grants through this program are ineligible. Questions can be directed to or 906-225-0671 x723.

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years. She is a regular contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange, UPword and other Issue Media Group publications. 
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