Farmer Steve Moore used
to grow 22,500 kg of early tomatoes in 900 square meters of
heated greenhouses each spring.
"It was a good money-maker," Moore says. "It
really filled in in the early spring when we needed some cash
flow for us and our wholesaler. The wholesaler supplied 14
markets in and around Washington, D.C."
But Moore says he felt he was also creating a monster.
"We were four years into tomato production and realized
that we were burning 1,500 pounds of propane in 10 days to
heat this greenhouse, pumping fuel oil from a 2,000-gallon
fuel oil tank and buying oil on futures to lock in prices
with our distributor.
"Wow! we said. This is a strange detour for a family
that has been farming with horses and trying to live a sustainable
lifestyle for 27 years," Moore recalls.
"We need to make some changes. We have to save our own
energy, too. We have to have less work, use less unsustainable
energy and we need better nutrition, fresh food instead of
all of the canning we were doing. We went back to square one."
Moore abandoned his big, fuel-guzzling greenhouses and began
experimenting with simple, homemade structures that burn no
fossil fuel whatsoever. He bought plastic pipe, cut up big
sheets of old greenhouse plastic, scrounged used plastic water
pipe and put them all together in simple structures that harnessed
the power of the sun.
"The materials cost us $200 per house. We recouped that
the first cutting of lettuce," Moore says.
Gradually, experimenting with different greenhouse designs
and materials, Moore finally worked his way up to his present
greenhouse, a 8.5- by 29-meter structure that helps to feed
130 families every week from mid-March almost to mid-December.
"It really looks like a standard greenhouse. It is embarrassingly
simple," he admits. "Ventilation consists of louvers
and wide double doors at each end that are opened by hand.
The key is to have a lot of airflow in a greenhouse to reduce
disease and other problems. Growing in healthy soil, we don't
have to worry about disease as much."