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High tunnel dedication

Photos by Wenbo Fan and Christy Mannering

UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources opens second high tunnel greenhouse

Representatives from the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), Cooperative Extension and Rimol Greenhouse Systems held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday, April 13, to officially open a new high tunnel greenhouse donated to the University by the company.

The high tunnel, a state-of-the-art growing space greenhouse designed with practicality, sustainability and year-round opportunities for education in mind, is the second one on UD’s CANR campus provided by Rimol and will double the amount of indoor growing space available to offer hands-on learning opportunities and fresh produce to both students and the Delaware community.

CANR Dean Mark Rieger began the ceremony by thanking Rimol and highlighting how Mike Popovich, farm manager at CANR, uses the high tunnel to offer a farm-to-chef model with some of the produce grown on the farm going to local Delaware restaurants.

Rieger also spoke about how he teaches a class in the high tunnel, which is a big benefit as the growing season doesn’t always coincide with the school semesters.

“The only way that we could do that is by having some kind of protected cultivation because our students are here in the fall and the spring; they’re really not here in the summer when we could do it outside. Last fall for example we were in the high tunnel growing broccoli, cauliflower and kale all the way through to Thanksgiving and it wouldn’t have been possible without that,” said Rieger. “I’m personally benefiting from this, the college is benefiting from this, and the state of Delaware will benefit as well from the engagement and the kinds of demonstrations that we’re going to be doing out of these tunnels.”

Rieger also thanked the donors who help fund student interns who get hands-on experience growing food in the high tunnels and on the farm.

Bob Rimol, owner of Rimol Greenhouse Systems, said that he has fond memories of Delaware and highlighted the importance of partnerships between private and public sector institutions.

“When Mark and I started talking about this opportunity, I saw the enthusiasm with Mark and with Mike and we know what Delaware is capable of doing, and I’ve always been a big believer in supporting educational institutions,” Rimol said. “We’re all focused on these two high tunnels today but it just doesn’t stop here. We want to support you all the time in educational workshops. This is a great opportunity for you as educators to help growers, help students, help the whole industry that we’re trying to make better.”

Rimol added, “Eating right starts with fresh produce. This is an example of locally grown, healthy fresh produce, and when you can teach more and more people on how to do it — whether it’s urban agriculture or the family farm — we’re all going to benefit.”

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean and director of Cooperative Extension, thanked Rimol for the donation and highlighted how the high tunnel will enable extension agents to offer more courses that will benefit the community.

“This is a Cooperative Extension dream to have an opportunity for real life, hands-on experience. Extension is really into experiential learning and putting research we’re generating into the hands of the people who are going to use it,” said Rodgers.

Rodgers highlighted how Carrie Murphy, agriculture program leader, had already used the high tunnels for a beginning farmer class. The class brought together a diverse group of growers with varying levels of experience and allowed for networking opportunities among the participants, who shared their experiences and learned from one another inside the high tunnel.

“We have a lot of interest, particularly in this county, around urban agriculture and what we can do to expand and work in the area of food security and local food needs, and being able to help people to know different ways that they can do that,” said Rodgers, adding it will be beneficial “having them come here, whether it’s kids learning about where their food comes from or adults learning to use local resources to produce food for people in the communities.”

Rodgers also talked about how the high tunnel will allow extension to teach about urban gardening and urban food production, as well as to expand on already existing workshops for industry members and farmers.

“We can do some more things concerning production in terms of soil health and also the latest research around high tunnels that we can share and bring to Delaware for agricultural production. We are very enthusiastic about what we think we can do and how this really enriches our opportunity to partner with other organizations and reach out,” said Rodgers.

The event featured UDairy Creamery ice cream and was catered by Grain Craft Bar and Kitchen.

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