At Henkle's Herbs and Heirlooms, They've Been Thinking About You For Years
When aaaah-some photographer Sarah Jane Sanders and I visited Velvet and Mark Henkle in Nicholasville for the current Smiley Pete story on Four Season Farming in the Polar Vortex, the horrific Winter of 2014 still menaced. One more 21 degree night barreled toward the brand new greenhouse at Henkle's Herbs & Heirlooms. I kept being surprised at how far ahead Mark and Velvet had worked and planned for this growing season—years, really, including their work to build solid protective structures that yield early tomatoes and mid-winter lettuces.
In our article in Chevy Chaser and Southsider magazines, Sarah Jane and I tell a bit of Mark and Velvet's story as the newest of three central Bluegrass growers. The other two growers in our story, Berries on Bryan Station and the University of Kentucky's Horticulture Research Farm (aka "South Farm") boast longer track records with extended season food production. In fact, Dr. Krista Jacobsen, assistant professor in UK's Department of Horticulture, told us researchers there have grown food in unheated, plastic covered structures for decades, because—Kentucky First Alert!!—Dr. Emery M. Emmert invented this growing method on UK's research farms in the late 1940s! The Smiley Pete stories include a fantastic archival photo of Dr. Emmert in one of his greenhouses in 1958.
Erik Walles of Berries on Bryan began using plastic shelters to grow greens and vegetables year-round at least eight years ago. When you eat one of those fabulous Windy Corner Market salads, even in January, chances are good they grew a few thousand feet away in one of Erik's unheated hoop houses.
We learn more than we can pour into the Smiley Pete photo essays. Even though Sarah Jane's photos play pictures' storied role in conveying richness, meaning and import to our image-hungry brains, we had no space in print to describe Mark's grafting demonstration, or share his explanation of how grafting tomato plants produces healthier plants and greater yields of some finicky customer favorites.
I barely referenced the excellent construction and thoughtful design of the Henkles' new wood-fired boiler that heats their greenhouse without relying on electricity, coal, or natural gas. This tool and the ways Mark keeps it fed and happy deserve a book or two.
When Mark opened the door to the firebox during what he knew would be a smoky moment, Sarah Jane walked into the smoke for the photo.
I appreciate Smiley Pete's investment in showing and telling the stories of Kentucky growers and our emerging local food economy. I appreciate the growers, so busy, who take time and use their reserves of patience to help me understand what they do and how they do it. And I delight in witnessing one part of a pro photographer's work.
Bonus! You have come this far. So you get to watch a movie, but it is too short to support much popcorn consumption. It's two minutes documenting mini-hoop house construction at the White House in 2009, with several government jefes offering a couple of sentences about how they intend to help us all have fresh, local food all year long. Bless them, and please take them up on it!
Start with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service EQIP program if you want more technical information about hoop houses for food production.