Farmers Can Pay Back New Hoop House Loan by Distributing FoodIs it really possible to have fresh salad greens all year round? Can you really get Michigan grown tomatoes in June or July? The answer is yes! Many Michigan farmers are meeting the growing demand for locally grown, fresh fruits and vegetables by using season extension techniques such as hoop houses to help them lengthen their growing season. A hoop house is a passive solar greenhouse that extends the production season for warm- and cool-season crops and permits winter harvesting of cold-tolerant vegetables. Hoop houses can also help a farmer increase their revenue. A recent study by Michigan State University found that, on average, an inexperienced hoop house grower selling at a farmers market can earn $1.60 per square foot per year.  The Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA), in partnership with the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University (MSU) and the MSU Student Organic Farm, is facilitating a program designed to help more farmers extend their growing season and strengthen the farmers markets where they sell their produce. The program is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and will make hoop house loans available to farmers selling at farmers markets that participate in food assistance programs. The program plans to distribute $500,000 over a three year period to farmers seeking to install hoop houses, including approximately $175,000 in 2011. Through this loan program, farmers will “pay off” their zero-interest loan by distributing fresh produce equal to the value of their loan principal to individuals using food assistance benefits at farmers markets. For example, if a loan amount of $5,000 is requested, a seasonal vendor who participates in a market for six months each year will need to distribute food valued at $41.67 each week to food assistance clients in order to pay back the loan principal within the five year loan period. Farmers must meet certain requirements to qualify and must be a seasonal vendor at one of the four farmers markets participating in 2011: the Downtown Saginaw Farmers’ Market, the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers’ Market, the Lapeer Farmers’ Market, and the Northwest Detroit Farmers’ Market. In order to be considered for this loan program, farmers must complete an application and submit it with supporting documents by Friday, August 19, 2011 at 5:00 p.m. Applications will be reviewed and announcements will be made by September 15, 2011. For more information contact Amanda Segar at 517-432-3381 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Waldman, K.B., Conner, D.S., Montri, A.D., Hamm, M.W. and J.A. Biernbaum (2010) Hoophouse Farming Startup: Economics, Efforts and Experiences from 12 Novice Hoophouse Farmers. MSU Extension Bulletin, 3138. Retrieved from http://www.hoophouse.msu.edu/assets/custom/files/Hoophouse%20Farming%20Startup.pdfMIFMA was developed in 2006 to promote and grow farmers markets across the state and increase their visibility to both producers and consumers. This membership-based organization offers information, sharing and resources to farmers markets, farmers and vendors and friends of Michigan food and agriculture. The MIFMA mission is to advance farmers markets to create a thriving marketplace for local food and farm products. Our vision is to place farmers markets at the forefront of the local food movement, working to ensure all residents have access to healthy, locally grown food and that Michigan farmers markets receive policy support. To learn more, please visit www.mifma.org or call (517) 432-3381.