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Grant helps local farmers extend season

Lois Hoffbauer recalls trekking through two feet of snow and fighting with a frozen hose to water her crops in April. With the record-setting late winter that pounded the Northland this year, Hoffbauer's crops might normally be a month behind sch...

Hoffbauer Farm
Minnesota Department of Agriculture Assistant Commissioner Charlie Poster asks Lois Hoffbauer a question about one of the new heaters in a greenhouse at the Hoffbauer Farm. Lois and husband Doug Hoffbauer received a grant from the MDA to help fund upgrades that will extend the growing season. (Photo by Tom Olsen)

Lois Hoffbauer recalls trekking through two feet of snow and fighting with a frozen hose to water her crops in April.

With the record-setting late winter that pounded the Northland this year, Hoffbauer's crops might normally be a month behind schedule at this time. But thanks to an investment in a couple of her greenhouses, she's bringing cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers to the Duluth Farmer's Market earlier in the season than ever before.

"It's going to be at least two weeks before most other vendors get there," Hoffbauer said this week. "When the market has been open, most everyone has come right over to us."

Lois and husband Doug Hoffbauer took early retirement from their jobs three years ago in order to tend to their 10-acre farm on Lindahl Road in Midway Township full-time, knowing full well that Mother Nature isn't always kind to farmers in Northern Minnesota.

Because the growing season is so short, the Hoffbauers are doing what they can to extend it, Lois said. This winter, with the help of a Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) grant, the couple was able to install heating systems and fans in two of their property's high-tunnel greenhouses, allowing them to get crops started while the snow is still falling.

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The Hoffbauers applied for the MDA Value Added Grant in January and were soon approved. The grant covered 25 percent of the $1,100 they spent on the heating systems and fans.

"This is what we do for a living, so every little bit we can save is huge," Lois Hoffbauer said. "We retired early and this is high-stress work. Without jobs, we have to pay for things like health insurance, so it's important to save money where we can."

In addition to extending the season, the upgrades allow the Hoffbauers and their two seasonal employees to keep comfortable in the greenhouses. The temperature can be adjusted to warm the greenhouses early in the season

and to keep them cool as the summer heats up.

The Hoffbauers were among nearly 50 Minnesota farmers, producers and processors to recently receive grants. The grant is awarded to support the agriculture industry in Minnesota by assisting entrepreneurs with new opportunities and enterprises.

MDA Assistant Commissioner Charlie Poster toured the Hoffbauer farm Tuesday morning to see how the agency's money was put to use.

"The Value Added Grant is helping many farmers around the state expand or modernize," Poster said while on his tour of recipient facilities. "It's amazing when you look at this farm and see how a small grant can help farmers harvest sooner. It adds value to our farms and increases agriculture jobs in the state."

Funding for the program is not new but, rather, repurposed. The grant is part of the state's Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation (AGRI) program, which was established to offer incentives for switching to renewable forms of energy. Last November, $700,000 was aside from AGRI to fund the grant program.

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Recipients have received grants to conduct feasibility studies, create business plans and purchase new equipment ranging from meat processors and smokehouses to sanitation stations and walk-in coolers.

There will be more time for local farmers to seek grants. The program recently received a two-year extension and will continue until at least 2015.

"Minnesota is a huge agriculture state," Poster said. "We want to make sure we're supporting our local farmers and allowing for locally grown product."

The Hoffbauer farm will take any help in can get in providing more local product to the farmer's market, Lois Hoffbauer said.

"You never know what kind of weather you're going to get. Last June, we had the flood, and then it hardly rained the rest of the summer," she said. "This will help ensure we have something to bring to the farmer's market every summer, and earlier in the year."

Farmers market has new hours

If you're planning to head down to the Duluth Farmers Market to see the selection of locally grown produce from vendors like the Hoffbauers, take note of the new hours.

Effective July 3, the market is open from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and

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7 a.m. to noon Saturdays. The market is located at 14th Ave. East and Third Street.

Greenhouses
Two large greenhouses at the Midway Township farm owned by Doug and Lois Hoffbauer are now equipped with heating systems and fans. Vents at the ends of the greenhouses allow fresh outside air to flow in. (Photo by Tom Olsen)

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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