It’s a pretty simple equation — the longer your growing season, the more food you can grow. And, if you’re a farmer, the more food you grow, the more money you can make.
In a place like Michigan, where cold temperatures start to settle in around October and snow can fall into April, any initiative that can extend the growing season, for example, a hoophouse, can be a boon.
A hoophouse is a structure consisting of a series of hoops covered in plastic. Using this structure, a farmer can grow crops year-round. If you’ve ever driven around Ann Arbor, Michigan, and seen hoophouses standing proudly on farm properties, then you’ve likely seen the work of Nifty Hoops and its owner, Jeff McCabe.
For going on a decade, McCabe has helped farmers, nonprofits, and community centers grow their own food quickly and affordably by providing education and resources. It all began back in 2008, when McCabe started Selma Café, a philanthropic restaurant based out of his home in Ann Arbor.
One day a week, he opened his doors to the community. And on a typical Friday, McCabe and local chefs would serve 200 people and raise an average of $2,500. Over the course of 4 years, McCabe turned over $400,000 into loans for local farmers to install hoophouses.
In 2011, McCabe expanded his support of local farmers by founding the Tilian Farm Development Center, which provides beginning farmers with access to land, resources, equipment, and education. Some of those farmers received loans for hoophouses, which McCabe helped them install. He noticed, however, that many traditional hoophouses were a pain to construct and they lacked the durability required to withstand Michigan’s four seasons.
McCabe decided to do something about it, so he started designing his own hoophouses, with the needs of Michigan growers in mind. Today, McCabe owns Nifty Hoops, a company that offers innovative, durable hoophouses across Michigan and the Midwest. McCabe and his team can install a hoophouse in a single day.
Those hoophouses, which McCabe designed working closely with four-season growers, have provided immense benefit for local formers.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Nifty Hoops customer and farmer Brian Bates from Bear Creek Organic Farm has to say:
“Aside from the excellent service, quality workmanship, lightning-fast construction, and savvy grower friendly features, this product stands for itself. [During some] horrific weather […], we were out of town and watching destruction on Facebook. We know 8 local growers who use hoophouses near us. Of those 8, 7 farms sustained damage, had poly torn to shreds, or lost their hoophouses entirely. When we returned home, we were relieved to see our hoophouses unfazed, undamaged, and in strong health. Crops are growing wonderfully and customers are happy. When you watch every single neighboring farmer sustain serious damage to their hoophouses, you know you’ve got a superior product.”
Hoophouses give farmers like Bates the ability to grow more food throughout the year — even in unpredictable weather. And with more growing opportunity comes the need for cold storage.
Enter the CoolBot. Smaller farms need an efficient and affordable way to store crops. They’ve grown out of a refrigerator, but they don’t want a large commercial cooler (or its associated cost).
The CoolBot meets growers halfway and is a logical counterpart to hoophouses, McCabe says. Why? Because they add value throughout the year. “I see the CoolBot being super integral to farms. It’s great and I can’t imagine it not existing. It’s something between a refrigerator and a big commercial cooler. I don’t know what we’d be doing if we didn’t have the CoolBot.”
McCabe has already made a huge difference in the lives of many farmers in Michigan and throughout the Midwest. And he has big plans to continue.
He may expand Nifty Hoops into other regions eventually. But for now, he and his team are focusing on the local community, building hoophouses for schools, hospitals, and nonprofits, particularly in areas with underserved populations. He also recently installed eight hoophouses at Recovery Park in Detroit.
To keep up with what’s new in hoophouses and other projects McCabe is working on, check out Nifty Hoops on Twitter and Facebook, and read more from the Nifty Hoops Blog. And if you’re a grower in Michigan or Midwest and in the need of a top-quality hoophouse, be sure to give him a call.