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Nearly 200 attend greenhouse conference

MONTROSE—Nearly 200 agricultural producers and others from Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico attended a one-day conference Greenhouses – Make Dollars & Sense featuring nationally-renowned greenhouse expert Eliot Coleman. The keynote address was by Coleman, who is currently raising 35 crops in approximately 12,500 square feet of greenhouse space. Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) and other organizations sponsored the May 15 conference.

“We have experimented with many different designs of covers and greenhouses in our Maine climate which can have up to ten feet of snow annually,” said Coleman. “Each (protective) layer added to our greenhouse moves us climate-wise 500 miles south.”

Coleman figures as a rule of thumb, his gross return is $1.50 per square foot in his greenhouse, and he has found that greens are his best crop.

“All weed germination occurs in top two inches of soil, so tillage should concentrate in that zone,” said Coleman. His other gardening tip: “Composting is the key component of any growing operation. Compost is the world’s best fertilizer and it is free!”

Coleman’s operation, Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine, supplies a food cooperative and other local markets with fresh produce from October to May. It was about these gardening and greenhouse techniques that he addressed the crowd in Montrose.

“I found his presentation to be both inspiring and instructional to the vegetable and greenhouse grower,” said RMFU Vice President Paul Stout, Broadview, N.M. “Mr. Coleman’s presentation, along with the array of other topics, were of tremendous value to today’s producer, especially to those looking to produce for niche markets and to sell direct to the consumer.”

Coleman has over 30 years experience in all aspects of organic farming, including field vegetables, greenhouse vegetables, rotational grazing of cattle and sheep, and range poultry. He is the author of The New Organic Grower , Four Season Harvest, and the Winter Harvest Manual. He has contributed chapters to three scientific books on organic agriculture and has written extensively on the subject since 1975.

In addition to the sessions by Coleman, the conference offered a variety of workshops, including local markets for winter produce, financing options for greenhouses, small farm permaculture design, perennial culinary herbs for greenhouses, adding goats and chickens to an operation, improving soils and cooperative opportunities.

“We had lots of outstanding feedback from the conference,” said RMFU Western Slope Representative Carolyn Mountel, main organizer of the event. “The conference was an excellent opportunity to hear a top-notch speaker, to get involved in specialty workshops and to network with other producers interested in improving their bottom lines. The backyard gardner was also encouraged to try simple growing techniques to help feed their families healthy organic produce during the winter months. RMFU is so pleased to have brought this event to Colorado!”

In addition to RMFU, conference sponsors included Uncompaghre Farmers Market, Painted Sky RC&D, Colorado Organic Producers Association, Valley Organic Growers Association, Western Colorado Congress, Delta County, First State Bank of Hotchkiss and Delta Montrose Electric Association.

For more information on RMFU or the conference, contact Carolyn Mountel at (970) 708-2106 or cmountel@aol.com.