Can you believe that it has been over a year since our greenhouse fundraiser? We can’t either! It has been a while since we have shared updates on this project, so we wanted to send some information on how the greenhouse project is moving along, along with some other accomplishments we have achieved since our greenhouse fundraising efforts last year.
After we secured and restricted the funds needed for the greenhouse we originally planned, our AmeriCorps VISTAs, Meg Mercier and Seth Armentrout, got to work planning on the logistics of bringing this plan alive. We gathered a greenhouse advisory committee to finalize the design, systems, partners, and cost estimates. Unfortunately, we soon realized that costs for an aquaponic commercial greenhouse would be much higher than anticipated. COVID-19 greatly increased construction costs and after Seth’s extensive research we discovered limitations on revenue potential, energy usage, and space. We also worried about the staff capacity required to take on operating an aquaponics greenhouse which required multiple 7-day-a-week temperature and pH checks with constant adjustments. At the same time, we were awarded a GOCO grant to build our new education center, and an individual donor funded a new bathroom facility. Our team prioritized this project, as well as our ongoing programs.
After weighing a number of options, our team decided to change directions and move forward with a year-round soil-based greenhouse for growing food, education, farmer start space, research, and generating some earned income for the Farm Park. A soil-based greenhouse better aligns with our values at the Local Foods Coalition, would be more useful for our farmers, and fits better within our budget and staff needs. We can have year-round production and education without the biosecurity concerns of an aquaponics greenhouse. Our Master Plan contains plans for multiple greenhouses. We haven’t taken the idea of a commercial aquaponics greenhouse off the table for the long run and we may renew these conversations in the future.
Once the decision was made to change directions, the Rio Grande Farm Park team scheduled a number of tours to visit greenhouses in the region to learn what is working well in our climate and clarify goals and ideas for our own greenhouse. There were a number of important lessons learned from these visits. We gained a much better appreciation for the work required to construct and operate viable greenhouses. We learned unique strategies to heat and cool spaces, and keep them at stable temperatures. We saw how people were using their greenhouses and hoophouses to build stronger local food systems. The Farm Park wants to grow abundant food for our community, and we remain excited to grow and demonstrate how to grow food here in Alamosa for the community here in the San Luis Valley.
After visiting so many greenhouses around the Valley, we are much more educated and empowered to make a decision on which greenhouse will best suit the needs of the Farm Park and our community. As an educational space, we want to integrate young people and farmers into the building process. We want to ensure that both our strategies and technology are part of the educational work we do. We want to prioritize high-quality materials, built to last, and get close to year-round growing without the use of fossil fuels. We want to make sure this space can serve growers at the Farm Park, and that they in turn can serve the community with different varieties, higher quantities, and longer periods of local foods! We also know that to accomplish our goals, we will need a significant amount of space and soil.
While we still have decisions to make about the materials, the construction, the operations, and the space itself, we recognize the wonderful gift our community has given us, and, in turn, what a gift this space will become for the community. We are excited to give this project our attention, finding beauty in the details. We know that no option will be perfect, but that patience will get us closer to a good decision. And we welcome your insights. Look for opportunities to join the greenhouse committee this winter with a goal to purchase and construct the greenhouse in 2022 (sign up for our e-newsletter here).
Thank you tremendously for your involvement, patience, and support.
If you have questions about this project, please contact Seth Armentrout at firstname.lastname@example.org