Fresh, locally grown tomatoes for Thanksgiving – in Minnesota?
It’s possible now that Concordia has a high tunnel, or hoop house, warmed with a solar air system.
The high tunnel garden is an extension of the campus organic garden, Cornucopia, which has served as an experiential learning site since 2010. The region’s short growing season, however, makes it challenging for students to benefit from it during the academic year.
Last spring, Concordia received a grant to build a high tunnel. Further research showed a solar air system could extend the growing season even longer. Additional funding made it possible.
Solar panels capture sun energy that heats air pumped through tile lines underneath the soil. This combination extends the growing season from Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving.
“It’s going to be a better experiential site for our students,” said Dr. Ken Foster, chair of the President’s Sustainability Council, at the ribbon-cutting event. “It’s mostly the work of students that started this project. The learning will continue.”
Solar-warmed high tunnels are rare, says BJ Allen, special projects manager for Rural Renewable Energy Alliance in Minnesota. She knows of four – all within the state.
“Concordia is visibly demonstrating its leadership in cutting-edge solar energy application,” she said. “Congratulations on initiating this really positive change.”
Students – and others – will benefit from the project, Allen said. They will have opportunities to study topic ranging from food security and the local foods movement to economic development.
Erin Hemme Froslie '96 is a freelance writer and editor.