Jamie Renzi needed a high tunnel.
The May graduate of the Surry Community College horticulture certification program was eager to get started growing and selling vegetables.
A high tunnel, which is a structure similar to a greenhouse but without a heating element, helps keep the growing process as close to organic as possible.
She had hoped to use state grant money to erect the structure on her own property in Ararat, but the funds wouldn’t be available until next year.
Meanwhile, the local cooperative extension office had a high tunnel that was not being used.
The tunnel, located at the Surry Community College campus in Pilot Mountain, had been taken over by the Surry Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension in 2014, but “it was too much for us to maintain,” said Joanna Radford, extension agent.
When Radford thought about Renzi’s problem, her wheels started to turn.
“I was like, wait a minute,” Radford said, and a farm incubator project began to grow.
Renzi took over the high tunnel earlier this year, cleaned it out and planted.
Vegetables growing now include tomatoes in containers, peppers, maintained Navaho blackberry bushes that were already established, cucumbers and pumpkins; she erected a vertical growing tower for lettuces and other continually growing greens.
“It took a little work, but everything does,” Renzi said, explaining that she grows everything without pesticides and — though not technically certified organic — in line with organic growing practices
“We’re incorporating all kinds of different ideas,” Renzi said.
Under the name “Roma Ready,” she’s been selling the harvest to local restaurants and donating to local daycares.
“Any money we make goes back into more seeds,” said Renzi, a retired veterinary technician and horse trainer who took the horticulture certification classes with her husband.
In addition to helping Renzi get started with her business, the extension and college can now use the fledgling farm for educational purposes.
That component kicks off August 25 with a class from 5 to 8 p.m. that will focus on techniques used to lengthen the growing season.
Participants can register through Surry Community College.
Renzi is as excited about teaching as the business.
“It’s just natural,” said the mother of six, noting that she hopes to include the school systems and other community groups in future teaching sessions.
Farm-to-table type events held with local chefs are also on the menu.
“It’s going to be a learning, feeding experience,” Renzi said.
On Friday, Radford and Renzi, along with a couple of master gardener interns, worked to clear out a collection of raised beds located behind the high tunnel.
Formerly part of “Charlie’s Garden,” which was run by the Ruritan Club, Renzi will incorporate the beds into the farm incubator project and will soon plant them with fall crops.
As Renzi put it: “There’s so much cooperation there’s no way it can fail.”