Hoophouses for Health Making Strides for Good Food Access

02/10/2015

Hoophouses for Health vouchers and fresh produce. Photo courtesy Hoophouses for Health.  (view larger image)

Hoophouses for Health vouchers and fresh produce. Photo courtesy Hoophouses for Health.

The Hoophouses for Health program, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is designed to increase access to good food for vulnerable families while simultaneously expanding farm infrastructure and season extension capacity of Michigan farmers. Participating farmers receive zero-interest loans for hoophouse infrastructure.  They  repay their loans by accepting vouchers, distributed to vulnerable families by partner organizations, for farm products at designated farmers markets around the state. Collected vouchers are then deducted from their total loan amount, and farmers have 5 years to pay back the loan.

Since program inception in 2011, 43 farmers have been approved for loans ranging in amount from $3,000 to $15,000. 

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Season extension in a Hoophouses for Health hoophouse.

Dru Montri, Director of the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA), said, “Almost $425,000 has been distributed to farmers through this program and we are excited to have an additional $450,000 to distribute over the next three years.  That means that farmers have access to capital to construct hoophouses and extend their growing season.  It also means that the same value in produce will be distributed to vulnerable children and families.” 

Nine farmers plan to complete construction on their hoophouses in the spring of 2015, and there are 25 farmers currently interested in submitting applications for hoophouse funding this year. The 2015 application will be available at mifma.org on March 2, 2015. This year’s funding for the program will be available beginning in April.  

At the end of 2014, 18 farmers markets around the state were participating in the Hoophouses for Health program. These markets were approved for participation based on their commitment to the program, food assistance redemption rates, number of participating farmers selling Michigan grown fruit and vegetables, and proximity to vulnerable children and families.

Not only are farmers able to sell their produce at participating farmers markets, but a portion of loan repayments are now able to be covered by Farm to School sales. Since September 2014, eight participating Hoophouses for Health farmers have sold produce to eligible daycares or schools in their area, and MIFMA hopes to continue the expansion of Farm to School sales in the coming year. In order to help realize this goal, a coordinated effort between Michigan Farm to School and Hoophouses for Health is underway to build the capacity of participating farmers to scale-up production and diversify their marketing outlets. By doing this, more farmers will have the capacity to begin sales to early child care and education programs and local schools and school districts throughout the state.

As the Hoophouses for Health program develops, more farmers are participating in the program and utilizing hoophouses, more farmers markets are having extended seasons, and more children are having access to healthy food at school and at home.

Hoophouses for Health is a collaboration between MIFMA, the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and the MSU Department of Horticulture