STORY: High tunnels extend shelf life of veggies

High tunnels, a low-cost alternative to traditional greenhouses, are popping up across the country. They can help protect vegetables from heavy rains, high winds and damaging storms.

Researchers in Florida and Kansas compared two model crops — tomatoes and spinach — grown in high tunnels and in open fields to see how shelf life was improved. Improved shelf life could help decrease the 40% of fresh produce that is spilled, spoiled or lost in other ways. A longer shelf life also makes the products more marketable and can dramatically add to growers’ profits.

Researchers determined that produce grown in high tunnels has a longer storage and shelf life compared to produce grown in open fields, depending on such factors as use of cold storage facilities, packaging and washes.

The researchers are investigating the role of light in phytochemical production, which could help increase the nutritional quality of produce grown in high tunnels.

And they are adapting post-harvest handling technologies common to large operations in Florida and California for use by small-scale growers. These technologies will help small-scale growers meet the needs of institutional markets such as schools, hospitals and other wholesale buyers.