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Jumping through hoops - Virginia conservation group seeks to burden family farms


Piedmont Environmental Council

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(NaturalNews) When it comes to farming, it seems like the government wants to create hurdles for small producers. They already require farmers and market gardeners to jump through hoops when getting their products to eager consumers. Now they're requiring them to jump through hoop houses.

For a small farmer, hoop houses are the best things since portable electric fences. They are easy-to-assemble, non-permanent structures that allow farmers, homesteaders and even home gardeners to extend the growing season for greater farm profitability.

Hoop houses capture the heat efficiency of a greenhouse, combined with the technology of a lightweight structure to create a portable, movable greenhouse.

Hoop houses come in all sizes for the varying needs of gardeners and
farmers. Even the USDA, despite their poor track record of supporting
commonsense initiatives for farmers, endorses the greenhouse-like
structures as a great asset for small farmers.

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"High tunnels, or hoop houses, conserve resources while serving as a source for local food. They are plastic-covered structures that enable farmers to have crops ready earlier or later in the season. In high tunnels, plants are grown directly in the ground, and the temperature is regulated by opening or closing the plastic curtain sides and doors on the ends." Read more at: Blogs.USDA.gov.

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"High tunnels or hoop houses are both environmentally friendly and help create healthier soil and enable farmers to plant a variety of crops."

— Pete Kennedy, President of the Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

It makes sense that the use of these tunnels is encouraged and supported by the agencies that want to see more land production and higher land value from extended growing seasons. So why does the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) want to regulate hoop houses on farm land deemed to be in "conservation"? What does that mean for the farmers who depend on the hoop houses for year-round income? The PEC is a 501(c)3 land trust that receives substantial money from taxes in the form of grants and other subsidies from state, federal and county government agencies. The hypocrisy of saving family farms and then creating restrictions that strangle family farms off the land sound like a bait-and-switch political tactic.

In Virginia, there is a battle brewing, and hoop houses are at the center of the controversy. The PEC alleges that its regulations on hoop houses will label them as permanent structures having environmental or conservation value. Keep in mind that the PEC sold land claiming that "Stonewall Jackson slept there," only to have the poor farm family discover years later that Stonewall did not sleep on the parcel. The absurdity of an "environmental group" wanting to regulate what is nothing more than a temporary tent is another example of why groups like this need to be heavily scrutinized. The PEC remains the posterchild for bad and abusive land trust practices on family farms. One would think that the organization would stop this menacing conduct given their track record. They were caught trespassing and violating the privacy of farmers after alleging that they had a right to inspect closets, laundry, toilets and bathrooms in a degrading viral video.

Farmers nationwide are unhappy about these latest shenanigans and demand this continued assault to stop. After all, the PEC's actions affect the family farmer's ability to make ends meet. When is the harassment going to end? When is the family farmer going to be able to farm without fear? How many more family farmers will be strangled off the land before something is done? These so called "land trusts" should not be funded with our tax dollars. Why are we funding shell groups that exist as land grabbing machines hiding behind "environmentalism"?

Virginia farmer Bryant Corvallis of Corvallis Farms in Catalpa could not survive without his hoop houses.

"In the last five or six years, consumer interest in locally grown food has exploded. The reasons are almost too numerous to name, but freshness, variety, nutrition, safety and taste are always at the top of the list. Thousands of people want to know where their food comes from and they enjoy meeting the people who grow it," said Corvallis.

The demand for locally grown food is not seasonal but year-round, and winter is usually a slack time of year for farm activity. Winter production makes a lot of sense not only for the consumer but for the farmer too. It fits into the farmers' schedules while providing an important source of revenue during the winter months.

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Produce raised in a heated greenhouse is usually too expensive to be price-competitive, but growing cool-season crops in unheated hoop houses works well. This provides consumers with year-round produce and farmers with winter income.

Hoop houses can be either big enough to walk around in (often called high hoop houses) or just tall enough for the crops growing in them (called low hoop houses, caterpillars or tunnels). Regardless of what name they are given, hoop houses are a cost-effective way to grow winter produce.

The most recent data that I have seen says that, in any given year, 70% of all U.S. farms lose money. Farming is a tough business to make a profit in, and winter produce can be a critical farm money-maker.

Even the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) encouraged their land owners with easements to get hoop houses. In one of their newsletters, they even offered incentives by way of government money to construct the hoop houses. This newsletter references the use of hoop houses or high tunnels on easement land to help small farms enhance growing seasons.

Hoop houses have been given the seal of approval by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The organization launched a hoop house program in 38 states to increase the availability of locally grown produce in a conservation-friendly way. NRCS provided financial assistance for the project through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the EQIP Organic Initiative and the Agricultural Management Assistance program.

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The USDA, NRCS, VOF and nearly every legitimate environmental organization all agree that hoop houses are temporary and conservation-friendly and should be encouraged on conservation easement land. Click here for more information on government funding for hoop houses. The following document farm bill specifically highlights the importance of hoop houses and provides more information on related programs: VBGov.com.[PDF]

The United States Deputy Secretary of Agriculture issued an important memorandum documenting and memorializing the extraordinary importance of hoop houses to conservancy efforts, protection of the environment and the local food supply. Read the memo here: USDA.gov.[PDF]

I find it appalling that the PEC is on a continued war against family farmers. Their actions are in direct contradiction to the agencies that are responsible for the Conservation Easement Act that gave the PEC its authority. How many more family farmers have to be hurt or threatened before something is done? As you can see here, even White House staff promote the usage of hoop houses, knowing how valuable they are for farmers.

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So why does the Piedmont Environmental Council want to continue to harm family farmers by limiting hoop houses on conservation easement land? It could be because the PEC doesn't really care about family farmers. Maybe it's because the PEC is not a land trust at all, but instead a power-hungry, controlling, land-grabbing tyrant with no respect or understanding of the struggles that family farmers face on a daily basis.

Pick up the phone, call the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and tell them that you care about family farmers. Having access to locally produced food is essential to healthy living. Tell VOF that you demand hoop houses to be unrestricted on conservation land. If we do not fight to protect family farmers' rights to peacefully grow food, we will witness their extinction and lose access to local, fresh, farm food.

"Hoop houses, which enable farmers to prolong the growing season, have long been an integral part of American agriculture. If hoop houses are to be banned from a farm under the terms of a conservation easement, what is to keep the PEC or any other self-anointed environmental lord of the manor from prohibiting barns, fences, or stock ponds on farmland?

"What farmer in his right mind would ever put a conservation easement on his land, knowing that the agreement can be twisted in such a way that making a living on the farm is nearly impossible? Completely in character, the PEC is showing boundless contempt for Virginia's agricultural traditions and for the rights of family farmers."

— Bonner Cohen, Ph.D., senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Reserach

Martha Boneta, a national advocate for the family farmer, says, "family farmers are the heart and soul of America. The ability to work hard and make ends meet on the land is a daily struggle for small producers. Once farmland is lost it is gone forever. We must stand together to stop tyrannical abuse and over regulation on the family farm so we may protect our rural way of life and natural resources for future generations."

Contact the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and demand that they stop over-regulating family farmers on conservation land. Let the family farmers grow in peace.

Brett Christina Glymph, Executive Director
Virginia Outdoors Foundation
39 Garrett St., Suite 200
Warrenton, VA 20186
(540) 347-7727 x235
[email protected]

Kimberly Hartke blogs about sustainable agriculture and regulation issues at HartkeIsOnline.com.

About the author:
Kimberly Hartke, Hartkeisonline.com

Kimberly Hartke blogs about health and wellness.

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