by Pattie Garrett
A visit to Saturday’s Saratoga Farmers’ Market during the cold winter months brings surprises: the tables are overflowing with vegetables and fruit, and each week newly harvested leafy greens and other fresh-picked produce appear. This leaves me wondering, how is it possible to grow vegetables when the temperature is below freezing?
Paul and Sandy Arnold, who have been working the land at Pleasant Valley Farm for the past 30 years, explain that they started experimenting with winter farming in 1992 with low tunnels, and in 2006 with high tunnels.
“Through much trial and error, the high tunnel winter greens production has proven to be worthwhile. Customers are excited to come every week of the year and be able to get fresh, healthy greens. Each year, our systems have been improved so that we have a more consistent supply throughout the cold winter months, though we will always be challenged by the weather,” explains Paul, with a knowing smile.
I decided to visit the farm on a cold February day. I drive down ice covered unpaved roads for miles; upon arrival I’m greeted by a hawk’s screech and an overwhelming view. Walking past several high tunnels full of colorful vegetables, I find the Arnolds harvesting vegetables, spinach, lettuce and more. High tunnels make it possible for local farmers to extend the growing season and provide us with locally grown fresh vegetables year-round at the farmers’ market. On the Arnold’s farm, the high tunnels are made of polycarbonate material and plastic over a steel structure; the tunnel protects the plants from weather extremes, controlling the environment for the plants in a safe, natural way. The vegetables are planted directly in the soil inside the tunnel. If the tunnel detects the temperature is too high or low, the tunnels’ side curtains will move up or down automatically to maintain an appropriate temperature.
The 5000 square foot high tunnels enable the Arnolds to grow tasty winter greens such as spinach, lettuce, kale, swiss chard, mustards, broccoli raab, Asian greens, arugula and more. Paul explains, “The seasons change the flavor of the produce. The cold may bring out its flavor or heat will enhance its sweetness.” So, enjoy your favorite vegetables and fruit from the farmers’ market, grown locally and naturally healthy and delicious all year, thanks to innovative farmers like the Arnolds.