MARQUETTE - When it comes to being environmentally friendly, food grown in your own county has big advantages over food that has to be grown thousands of miles away and then transported.
The U.P. climate makes growing local food year-round a challenge, but a cooperative program through Northern Michigan University, the Marquette Food Co-op and Northern Initiatives could make it a bit easier for local growers.
Through a grant from the Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a "hoop house" or passive solar greenhouse, has been constructed on the NMU campus.
A hoop house, a type of greenhouse, allows local growers to continue growing year-round, even in a climate like the one in Marquette County. A cooperative effort by Northern Michigan University, the Marquette Food Co-Op and Northern Initiatives recently saw the construction of a hoop house on campus which will be used to explore year-round growing possibilities. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
"The concept is to use it as a pilot to test the feasibility of year-round growing," said Christine Rector, Director of Regional Strategies for the nonprofit economic development Northern Initiatives.
Working out the kinks in running a year-round greenhouse at the NMU hoop house will reduce the learning curve for local growers as they determine which crops and production practices to use, Rector said.
Departments at NMU, including the Culinary Arts Program and Conference and Catering will also likely benefit by having a local supply of fresh produce to incorporate into meals.
Another opportunity could be a composting program using food waste produced in the campus dining halls, Rector said.
The 22 foot by 48 foot hoop house was constructed earlier this month near the Jacobetti Center at NMU by volunteers from the construction management program. A plastic cover still has to be placed over the structure before it is completed.
A crop of ryegrass has already been planted, and will be tilled back into the soil as a fertilizer in the spring. Future crops will be decided upon with input from the Co-op - with its connections to local growers and food expertise - and the culinary arts program.
Having the hoop house on NMU's campus provides several benefits, Rector said, from learning opportunities for students and faculty to having food grown close by.
"We get high quality fresh food," Rector said. "Taking steps to boost and support the local agricultural system is a strategy that aids in agricultural land preservation, helps to bring about more local markets to mitigate transportation costs and begins to open greater local opportunities for local institutional and restaurant purchase."
Although there are other hoop houses in use around Marquette County and the rest of the U.P., the new one at NMU would be among the first to operate year-round.
Soil preparation and crop selection will take place throughout the winter with the educational outreach portion of the project to begin in 2010.
In the climate Yoopers are all too familiar with, it may seem impossible to grow food year-round, but a hoop house can make that plan a real possibility.
"The ground does not freeze, snow slides off the roof," Rector said.