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Missouri Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Awards

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April 23, 2003

Natural Tunnels Help Extend Growing Season for Local Flower Growers

(ASHLAND, Mo.) - From the birth of a child to a spat with the spouse, fresh flowers brighten any occasion.

An Ashland woman who grows more than 200 varieties of flowering crops for regional florists and farmers' markets is making the growing process more energy efficient thanks to a grant from the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

Mimo (pronounced Mee-muh) Davis, owner of WildThang Farms, 14150 Bob Veach Rd., received a Missouri Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Award grant to build natural greenhouses on her 15-acre farm. The plastic-and-mulch tunnels extend the growing season for her cut flowers and are used in place of more costly greenhouses that rely on non-renewable energy sources, such as propane, for heat.

The director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Lowell Mohler, recognized WildThang Farms for its environmentally friendly farming practices in conjunction with Earth Day, which was April 22.

Davis is a participant in the department's Missouri Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Award program, which provides grants to farmers to try innovative and environmentally friendly production methods.

"The projects funded by these grants have far-reaching benefits," said Mohler. "They give Missouri farmers the chance to try projects that add profitability to their operations, which in turn has a positive impact on our rural communities. At the same time, the additional financial assistance enables producers to initiate practices that conserve our precious natural resources."

In addition to curtailing fuel use, the low-tunnel technology allows WildThang Farms to grow flowers for two additional months in the spring, a time when Missouri florists would normally import flowers. The additional flower sales increase the farm's cash receipts, allowing the farm to hire staff from the rural community for a longer time.

"Missouri weather may drop a hard freeze as late as mid-May," said Davis. "Our hoop houses and low-tunnel technology allow us to grow our flowers outdoors using spring sunlight to warm the soil, rather than starting the plugs in a greenhouse and waiting to transplant them outside after all danger of frost is gone."

Davis' project tests two types of low tunnels. One, called a zip house, allows easy ventilation and uses a rope system to open and close two layers of plastic to let in sunlight.

The other tunnel type uses pre-cut wires bent into hoops across the flower beds. The wire hoop frames are covered with plastic and anchored with sand-filled bags. To suppress weeds, the beds are covered with plastic mulch that is designed to warm the soil more efficiently and promote early spring crop growth.

Davis said she expects to cut the second batch of flowers grown under these two systems in the next six weeks. WildThang Farms specializes in unusual flower varieties, including native Missouri wildflowers such as Queen of the Prairie and Butterfly Weed.

"WildThang Farms is not only a prime example of a sustainable farm, but it is an important part of the state's growing horticulture industry," said Mohler. "A recent survey showed Missouri's nursery industry employs about 9,000 people and contributes about $250 million annually in gross receipts to the state's economy."

The Missouri legislature established the Missouri Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Award program in 1995. Since then, 214 Missouri farmers have received grants for projects that help reduce chemical pesticide and fertilizer use and make farms more sustainable. As part of the program, farmers must share their research and findings, creating a network of sustainable agriculture practitioners. Projects range from producing crawfish in the Bootheel to raising berries in northern Missouri, Mohler said.

The Community Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture Program of the University of Missouri and Lincoln University also provide support for the program.

The Community Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture Program is a University Outreach and Extension program, administered jointly by the University of Missouri System and Lincoln University, in collaboration with the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and with support from the Bonnie Clark Fund for Sustainable Agriculture.

Questions? Comments? Please contact Joan Benjamin at: