MUNISING - Fresh, organic lettuce in December? Munising residents may be able to indulge in such treats during this year's early Upper Peninsula winter.
With the help of a GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental needs) grant from Michigan State University, Munising residents have built a hoophouse -an energy-efficient, passive-solar greenhouse -to grow fresh organic veggies nine to 10 months out of the year.
"The idea is to infuse fresh local produce into the meals of older people, people who are receiving 'meals on wheels' and also to provide meaningful employment for Pathways clientele," said Jim Isleib, director of the Alger County MSU Extension.
Isleib, along with Munising resident Jeff Dwyer; Alger County Clinical Director for Pathways Community Mental Health Lorie Tracey and others have been working throughout the summer to get the project going.
"I volunteer my hours on Saturdays," Tracey said. "It's a community project."
The hoophouse is located on the property of Neenah Paper Company's Munising mill. It is 30 by 48 feet and currently has beets, radishes, onions and carrots and a variety of lettuces growing in it.
"Most of the vegetables are high in nutrition," Tracey said. "The Munising hospital has promised to buy the veggies and provide them to their patients."
Tracey said people working at the hoophouse use natural fertilizer and keep practices chemically free. Plants are grown from seeds.
Isleib added that keeping things organic and energy-efficient is part of the project.
"(Hoophouses) don't use a lot of energy," he said. "They take advantage of solar energies."
Tracey said the vegetables are currently being provided to people in nursing homes and similar places. Pathways is managing the project, using grant money to subsidize costs for labor in the first year and planning to use proceeds from the harvest sales to subsidize wages for workers in the second year.
The growing season is expected to run until December and would be picked up again in February or March, she added. In the summer, Tracey said she hopes to sell items at the Munising Farmers Market.
"Of course this is the first year for it, so this is a learning curve," she said.
As for now: "Our first harvest of radishes should be next week," Tracey said. "The guys are so excited."