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New greenhouse unveiled in Finland

Visitors check out the deep winter greenhouse unveiled at the Organic Consumers' Association in Finland. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)1 / 3
Kale seedlings are planted in a converted rain gutter that will hang above raised beds in the deep winter greenhouse unveiled Saturday at the Organic Consumer's Association in Finland. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)2 / 3
Seedlings wait to be planted Saturday in the deep winter greenhouse at the Organic Consumers' Association in Finland. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)3 / 3

The temperatures soared to nearly 60 degrees Saturday in Finland and people who had come out to the Organic Consumers Association sank into mud that is typical of Northern Minnesota in the late spring, not mid-February.

The weather wasn't just unseasonable, it also provided an ironic unveiling of the OCA's newest addition, a deep winter greenhouse (DWG) that will allow farmers that face harsh winters to continue producing high quality fruits and vegetables throughout the year. More than 100 people came to the open house and unveiling celebration, including representatives from the OCA, the University of Minnesota Extension's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) and even Minnesota state Rep. Rob Ecklund.

If the weather outside the greenhouse was a little balmy for Finland in February, it was positively sweltering inside the greenhouse, which was clearly collecting and containing the warmth of the day outside. Kale, lettuce and other greens waited on the floor to be planted in the dirt that filled planters on the floor. Above the boxes hung empty rain gutters and outside more were being filled with soil and having kale seedlings planted in them.

It was so hot in the greenhouse that most people couldn't spend more than a few minutes in it without breaking a sweat. In fact, temperatures in the greenhouse can reach upwards of 115 degrees during even the coldest winter months and a fan must be used to ventilate the DWG to prevent crops from burning, according to Greg Schweser, RSDP associate director of local foods and sustainable agriculture.

Last year, RSDP announced a partnership with OCA to build a DWG at the organization's Finland farm. A DWG is a passive solar, low-cost, low-carbon winter food production system. Farmers using DWG technology can grow winter-hardy crops like lettuce, cabbages, broccoli or Asian greens with little or no added heat. The structure is built with a south-facing sloped wall that captures heat from the sun. The heat is stored in a 4-foot deep underground rock bed and dissipates into the planting area during the night. The prototype developed at the University of Minnesota was based on earlier designs and increases insulation capacity and reduces the use of electricity or propane to heat the greenhouse.

OCA is a nonprofit formed in 1998 to pressure the federal government to keep strict organic standards and has grown to represent more than 2 million online and traditional activists in addition to producing some of its own fruit and vegetables. The group has grown to include seven employees and even helped establish a similar organization and small farm in Mexico City about five years ago.

The RSDP chose five sites in the different areas of Minnesota out of more than 40 applications and OCA's visibility was one of the main reasons it was chosen as a partner. Schweser said he hopes the DWGs can become as common across Minnesota as the tunnel or hoop house greenhouses have become at farms across the state. Twenty years ago, few Minnesota farms had hoop houses and the growing season was limited for many small farms, preventing them from growing a variety of fruits and vegetables.

"We started experimenting with hoop houses and extending that season to the shoulders, to the spring and the fall and all of a sudden you're growing tomatoes and peppers up here," he said. "Now we are looking for ways to expand and go bigger. What's our limiting factor? It's winter. Now we have the opportunity to extend into the winter season for year-round production."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle in August 2015. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and previously worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. He is the beat writer for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Lake Superior School District board of education and high school sports in Lake County. 

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