Hoop houses, which extend growing seasons, come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. What they have in common is they are low-cost structures, often covered with plastic, that make it possible for growers to plant food earlier in the spring and cultivate it into the autumn. U.S. Department of Agriculture

Hoping to help more people grow food, Maine officials are weighing a change in the state building code to allow flimsy, low-cost hoop houses that don’t meet current structural standards in place for most towns and cities.

Changing the language in the state code “in a very small way, we will allow more of our citizens to grow their own foods, become more self-sufficient and to do so in a manner that will not break the bank,” said state Rep. Kathy Shaw, an Auburn Democrat and a farmer.

Shaw, who is sponsoring a bill to revise the law, said many people want to erect affordable plastic structures but discover they cannot because there is no exemption for them from structural and load requirements aimed at more substantial buildings.

Emma Lorusso, project director at the Androscoggin Valley Soil & Water Conservation District, said that under the existing state code, hoop houses and greenhouses are not allowed in communities with more than 4,000 residents. The proposal by Shaw would allow them everywhere.

“At the center of our district is Lewiston-Auburn, an urban area in need of more local growers,” Lorusso said. She said Shaw’s bill “will give more local homeowners and local farmers access to provide healthy food year-round to our community.”

Julia Harper, coordinator of the Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn, said because of the short growing season in Maine “having greenhouses is an essential part of growing crops” for most farmers in the Pine Tree State.


They make it possible to start the growing season earlier, she said, and extend it into the fall and winter as well.

Legislators are considering a bill that Shaw introduced that would add an exemption to the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code, which already allows similar structures to house livestock or store produce.

Supporters said the exemption would not apply to growing marijuana.

Shelley Megquier, the policy and research director for the Maine Farmland Trust, said farmers in the state “are increasingly turning to the construction of greenhouses, high tunnels, and similar plastic-covered structures to protect their crops, extend growing seasons, dramatically increase yields, and expand crop options throughout the year.”

“These structures can boost farm viability and support farms to withstand the increasingly unpredictable conditions that are accompanying climate change in Maine,” Megquier said.

Craig Lapine, director of the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources, said he “frequently hears from frustrated farmers that municipalities do not apply a consistent approach to evaluating agricultural buildings for purposes of tax assessment or applying building and energy codes.”

He said the department’s position is that the structures shouldn’t be taxed as permanent buildings and should be allowed under state building and energy codes. Lapine said Shaw’s proposal would clarify the law.

Auburn’s planning director, Eric Cousens, hailed the proposed legislation. He said it would “make growing healthy food attainable to more homes or farms close to where people live, without endangering public safety.”

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