A Natural Resources Conservation Service administered grant program that pays for high-tunnels has been growing in popularity over the past few years, and that is increasing competition for the grants in some areas, said Barton County District Conservationist Ron Klein. The goal of the program is to get locally grown produce into the hands of people, especially those who have low income or live in areas that may be in food deserts. One common definition of a food desert is where the distance to a grocery store is either more than one mile in an urban area, or more than 10 miles in a rural area.
In the past year, high tunnel grants have been awarded through the Barton County NRCS office, and interest has been high. One key requirement is the tunnel must be built on land that has previously been farmed, Klein said. Many have contacted him in recent months, but few have qualified because of this, he added.
For the past couple years, money has been distributed evenly throughout the state to NRCS offices, so even if competition is high in one area, applicants in other areas don’t miss out. Grants are awarded as they are approved, and once the grant money for an area has been allocated, applicants have to wait until more money is available. If an area does not award a grant, that money can be redistributed to another area. So far this year, Klein has only received one application from his service area, which was withdrawn.
There is a two-year commitment to the program, Klein added. After the two years is over, grantees are free to make alterations to the high-tunnel, the property on which it is standing can be sold, or it can be removed without penalty. There are no production requirements either, and grantees can determine what they wish to grow.
While many NRCS programs have a set application period, the high tunnel program with EQIP does not, he said Friday morning. Applications can be taken any time of the year. The application process for this grant is fairly easy, provided the land requirements can be met, Klein said.