The Haverfarm high tunnel, a plastic-covered, greenhouse-like structure, with a ladder under it as it is being constructed.

High Tunnel Comes to the Haverfarm

The new flexible, semi-movable greenhouse-like structure will allow the campus farm to grow food year round.

Since 2012, the Haverfarm has been an important part of the campus community. It carved out a campus space for students to learn about agriculture and sustainability by practicing it first hand, and it has grown over the past eight years to encompass two different plots of land, a greenhouse, a classroom, beehives, an orchard, and now, a high tunnel. 

A high tunnel, for those not conversant in agricultural lingo, is a lighter, more flexible, more portable version of a greenhouse with lots of extra headspace. 

“[It] is essentially a semi-moveable greenhouse built directly over in-ground production,” said Madison Tillman ’18, the Haverfarm fellow better known as “Tilly.” “It is a plastic-covered structure that allows for a more climate-controlled environment and, thus, more consistent crop production and an extended growing season.”

Haverford’s new high tunnel, installed earlier this month, will allow the Haverfarm to produce food year round. (Though the farm has always been operational year-round, it’s growing season was sadly limited to the warmest months when students weren’t usually on campus.) This is important not only because it expands the farm’s educational opportunities throughout the academic year, but because it will allow the farm to grow much more food for the new campus food pantry.

An inside view in the completed high tunnel with rows of plants.
An inside view of the new Haverfarm high tunnel. Photo by Patrick Montero.

“One of the Haverfarm’s top priorities is distributing produce to low-income students and community members,” said Tillman. “With this tunnel, we aim to support the campus food pantry in a much bigger way and significantly increase annual production.”

Currently, the Haverfarm grows about 1,600 pounds of food a year, which is either sold via sliding scale at on-campus farm stands, distributed to CSA members on and off campus, and donated to the campus food pantry. 

Developing Haverford’s own “food loop” is a central part of the College’s sustainability program. “This generation of students is intensely interested in their relationship with the food they eat, and the impact food systems have on environmental, economic, and community health,” said Jesse Lytle, Haverford’s chief sustainability officer. In addition to growing food at the Haverfarm, recent student initiatives led to the Dining Center setting and meeting new goals around responsible food sourcing via the Real Food Challenge, and adding a biodigester to reduce the amount of food waste the College sends to landfills.   

Arboretum Director Claudia Kent, who helped secure funding from the Committee for Environmental Responsibility, the Haverford College Arboretum, and the Office of Student Engagement and Leadership for the new Haverfarm high tunnel, says that the 20’-by-60’ structure was built by Tillman’s “sweat, literally and figuratively.” She worked with contractors Civatella Construction to install the structure’s high ground posts, roll-up side curtains, and poly covering, and Adrian Galbraith-Paul of West Philly’s Heritage Farm served as a consultant, teaching Tillman how to raise the tunnel.

A portrait of Madison Tillman inside the Haverfarm greenhouse, surrounded by plants.
Portrait of Madison Tillman ’18, Farm Fellow. Photo by Patrick Montero

Up next? Preparing the ground inside the high tunnel for late fall planting. 

“We expect to grow lettuce, collards, kale, and chard in the tunnel throughout the winter, and move into broccoli, peas, and root veggies in the spring,” said Tillman. “We’re definitely looking forward to some summer tomatoes under cover in 2021!”

The campus high tunnel took only three days to build this summer, but has long been in the making. It was first proposed by former farm fellow Aubrey Deleon in 2016, and the current iteration of the proposal was drafted last summer by Tillman with help from luigie febres ’22 and Ellis Maxwell ’20. Funding was secured during the ’19/’20 school year. 

“A high tunnel serves as an example of Haverford’s commitment to intersectional environmental justice, and has found enthusiastic endorsement across Haverford’s campus,” said Tillman. “I saw an inconsistency between our mission and our work. We wanted the Haverfarm to be a space of environmental justice education year-round, but found we could not execute this mission without a space for winter growing.”