Butte County farmers dealing with expensive permits for 'high tunnels' to help grow crops

Some Butte County farmers are having a tough time getting permits for structures that can make a big difference in growing their crops.

Posted: Sep 28, 2021 7:38 AM
Updated: Sep 28, 2021 4:59 PM

BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - Some Butte County farmers are having a tough time getting permits for structures that can make a big difference in growing their crops.

One of those farmers is named Amelia Waldron. Waldron can sometimes be found with chickens, pigs, and sprouting vegetables.

"We do a lot of lettuce," Waldron explained. "And then for summer, we do tomatoes, peppers."

She then sells those things at the Wednesday farmers market off Pillsbury Road in Chico.

Most of that produce is grown from this structure called a "high tunnel." 

"They're similar in greenhouses in that they both use plastic. But you would generally have pots and pans in a greenhouse. And in a high tunnel, they're going to be grown directly in the ground."

Waldron says high tunnels can increase the humidity inside and push away any pests.

You don't need a permit for them in California unless they are larger than 120 square feet.

Waldron previously had two high tunnels at her Butte Valley farm. The problem she encountered was that both were bigger than 120 square feet. So the county told her to take them both down.

"We built them and put all our crops in them, last spring. And then after about two months, we reported by our neighbors for having unpermitted greenhouses," Waldron said. 

Her neighbors thought she was growing weed.

"We ended up losing most of our spring crops, right before we were supposed to go to farmers' market, so that was kind of a big hit for us," Waldron said.

To help that, the county wants to get rid of high tunnel building permits which can sometimes cost nearly $800. Not to mention paying an engineer.

"So that can be several thousand dollars," said Curtis Johnson, the building division manager for Butte County. "We really looked at these structures as a very low hazard to occupants in the surrounding community. Based on the lightweight."

It would be a pre-fabricated tunnel that would not require an engineer because it wouldn't have any electrical wiring. It's music to the ears for Waldron.

"I think most people in town didn't even know this was a possibility that they could get reported, that they aren't allowed to have them, but I'm sure everyone will be really happy to know that they can put up more," Waldron said.

The Butte County Board of Supervisors recently voted to pave a path to the exemption of these high tunnel building permits.

And according to the county, at least 50 permits have been issued for greenhouses since 2009.

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