Well, the time has come to share the Half Pint Farm HayGrove story. There has been a lot of press as of late concerning the use of hoophouse structures in flood-prone areas in Vermont, with the legislative eye fixed firmly on the Intervale, and by no small proxy, on little Half Pint Farm. So, here goes.
Inspired by the obvious benefit the Solo HayGrove structure afforded our neighbor Adam with early/extended season strawberries (not to mention the ability to harvest/weed/work on rainy days in the HayGrove), we decided to take the plunge and order a HayGrove to cover our 1/2 acre main field. This is no small investment ($20K or so) for a farm our size, but after researching HayGroves, we were impressed with their ease of set up, maintenance, square foot price ($1/sqft vs. others that are about $5/sqft of coverage), and overall benefit they would give us. Namely, we would be able to produce earlier and more of everything we grow to an increasingly demanding public well-aware of the benefits of locally produced organic food. Secondly, we would be able to manage our land better by decreasing weed pressure (not allowing rain to fall on paths, therefore fewer weeds germinating in paths), not to mention being able to harvest and weed on inclement weather days (normally you can't harvest tomatoes, beans and squashes on rainy days, as this spreads disease easily amongst plants). So, it was with confidence that we submitted our proposal to the Intervale Land Committee on October 8, 2007.
Normally, the Land Committee reviews all farmer proposals within a month. However, this time, the Intervale was under particular scrutiny because of issues concerning Intervale Compost Products regarding ANR rules and environmental regulations. Also, this was compounded by issues concerning possible Abenaki burial grounds near the compost operation. Mike Ives from the Seven Days newspaper did a great article on this back in October. Needless to say, the Intervale Center has been occupied with getting permits, holding press conferences, firing and hiring, and finally deciding to end the operation after 20 years of service to Burlington. Nice article about it here. So, what does this have to do with us?
The Intervale went to the City of Burlington to see if we needed to apply for a permit for our HayGrove structure - eventhough in the past, the City has not required a permit for these types of temporary structures. The City took a little longer to decide because of the issues Compost was going through, and meanwhile the Department of Agriculture was brought into the process. The Department of Agriculture said that hoophouses in floodways are not included in accepted agricultural practices (AAPs). The only thing they allow to be built on a floodway is a fence. Mysteriously, FEMA was made aware of the "development" that had sprung up over the years in the Intervale. This includes raised sheds and hoophouses.
Our hope now resides in FEMA recognizing that the HayGrove hoophouse is not a "structure" that will have any impact on flood levels or flow of water. The Intervale should be recognized as being in a floodplain (non-flowing water during floods) instead of a floodway (flowing water with a current - sweeping things downstream). We experienced a major flood in 2006 (see left), and walking through that flood during its peak, we can attest to no current in the water. Also, note how our other hoophouse filled with water as though it wasn't even there. This structure is significantly more substantial in structure than the HayGrove we are proposing to build - the HayGrove has no baseboards, like this one does.
This decision is not expected to come down the pipeline until mid-March. Meanwhile, we cross our fingers, try to plan our farm season, order seeds, and hope. Our HayGrove sits in pieces at the farm awaiting approval and the Spring thaw. With any luck, we can erect our structure, and plant the first veggies by our planned date - April 15th. Those are the veggies you can expect to see at the first farmers market of the season.
I can't help but think about the basic thing in all this, and that is that all we want to do is grow food. We want to grow more and better food. We want to supply Burlington with this wonderful thing. Burlington has the distinction of being recognized as one of the "greenest" towns in the US by Organic Gardening magazine just recently in the February 2008 issue. One of the biggest reasons for that distinction was Intervale Compost Products, which has been bullied out of business now, and I feel like we're fighting to keep the other major "green" asset to the Queen City alive, and that's the Intervale Farms. Interestingly, isn't food security in the purview of FEMA? The big picture should be looked at here, not one tiny (1 and a third acre), low-impact farm's plans to help the community have even more access to good, clean and fair food.