RSDP Happenings - Focus: Deep Winter Greenhouses get their day in the sun
By Greg Schweser, RSDP Associate Director for Sustainable and Local Food
Carol Ford tends crops in her deep winter greenhouse with Alma Jorgenson in Milan, MN (photo: Kathy Draeger).
RSDP is increasingly involved with local food production through deep winter greenhouses (DWGs), small scale passive solar greenhouses that use thermal mass design to retain heat. Here are a few highlights:
- In a project administered by SWRSDP and funded by the Bush Foundation, Carol Ford is creating a network of DWG producers. Carol is now working with the Minnesota Sustainable Farming Association to create a formal interest group that will help share DWG concepts with people around the state at the SFA annual convention and site-based trainings. Carol and her late husband Chuck Waibel were DWG pioneers, and RSDP helped publish their "Northlands Winter Greenhouse Manual" in 2009. Carol is also a presenter in the 2015 Local Foods College.
- I am a coordinator on a grant funded by the U of M under its MnDRIVE program that is aimed at improving winter local food production. U of M horticulture researchers are working with both conventional greenhouse and DWG producers to look at optimal growing conditions for several crops and the crops' nutritive value. RSDP and Extension's Ryan Pesch will be working with DWG growers and local food co-ops to understand the cost-benefit equation for mesclun, a popular salad mix. We will share the findings through RSDP-organized trainings in our regions.
- RSDP is also closely involved with a grant from Extension to the U's Center for Sustainable Building Research, which will assess existing deep winter structures on energy and production efficiency. They will develop and refine models that maximize solar energy, regulate temperatures and control humidity levels. The outcome will be a set of credible blueprints and construction cost estimates that RSDP and others who seek to build DWGs can take to funders to help make their case for the structures.
- RSDP is considering a plan put forward by the Central RSDP board for a campaign to build 5-10 DWGs across Greater Minnesota's varied climate and geographic conditions. The DWG campaign would create five to ten on-farm research and demonstration sites to promote DWG technology, with the hope of reaching a "tipping point" for DWG adoption. RSDP is currently in contact with potential funders outside the U of M who could help make this a viable project. (The U of M places considerable restrictions on using its funds directly for capital projects that are not on its properties.)
- The Cold-climate Greenhouse Resource: A guidebook for designing and building a cold-climate greenhouse co-published by SERSDP last year is available for free online.
RSDP's work in deep winter greenhouses reflects how we connect local communities in Greater Minnesota with the resources and capabilities of the University of Minnesota. As we did with farm-to-institution programs and clean energy programs a decade ago, we are dreaming big about the potential for fresh local food throughout the winter, throughout Minnesota, with DWGs playing an important role.