Homegrown Engagement

In 2009, University of Minnesota Extension’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) joined Milan, Minnesota-based Carol Ford and Chuck Waibel in developing the Northlands Winter Greenhouse Manual, a primer on low carbon footprint solar greenhouses for cold weather climates. The partnership laid the foundation for a project that continues to drive University research and enables farmers to grow fresh vegetables year-round.

With guidance from researcher Daniel Handeen of the College of Design’s Center for Sustainable Building Research, RSDP staff and farmers from Minnesota communities are working to improve Deep Winter Greenhouse (DWG) design to minimize fossil fuel consumption and maximize crop yield.

RSDP is currently expanding the project to include five DWGs based on Handeen’s prototype. With support from Extension, the Institute on the Environment, and MnDrive Global Food Ventures, as well as funding from a consortium of agriculture lending banks comprising United Farm Credit Services, AgCountry Farm Credit Services, AgriBank, and AgStar Financial Services, the DWGs are planned for Minnesota’s five geographic regions.

Over the next three years, University researchers will have access to the DWGs to study soil nutrients, seeding rates, winter crop varieties, organic fertilizers, and potential business models for winter producers.

According to RSDP’s Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Greg Schweser, the DWG project wouldn’t be possible without vital community partners. Although Waibel passed away in 2013, his legacy and Ford’s influence continues. “This project has been community-based from the outset,” said Schweser. “The inspiration really comes from farmers like Carol Ford and Chuck Waibel—the University has simply provided resources to give the idea scale.” Watch Carol Ford’s TEDx talk on her continuing work in sustainable food systems.