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      Extreme Gardening may offer winter farming

      A Marquette man has designed what he calls the "Yoopertopia Growing System." It's a prototype greenhouse that may allow farmers to grow crops all winter long. The prototype is currently undergoing a trial growing season with a farmer in Christmas.

      It's called Extreme Gardening. Artist and inventor Earl Senchuk designed the "Yoopertopia Growing System" to expand the growing season for farmers that have to deal with harsh winters.

      "How far we can grow into the winter is going to determine how far we can back up on the other side of winter. So what we're trying to do is take the dead out of the dead of winter," said Senchuk.

      Senchuk created the 16x20 foot "Yoopertopia Greenhouse" three years ago. He designed the plant beds, known as "Boomer Bloomers" four years ago and has been growing crops in them from March to December on average. He calls them Boomer Bloomers because they cater to more elderly farmers, like the baby boomers. The beds are closer to waist height for easier access.

      By putting the Boomer Bloomers inside the Yoopertopia, Senchuk created the Yoopertopia Growing System. He hopes that together they will be able to expand the growing season to a full year. Senchuk is putting his prototype to the test with the Shelter Bay Tomato Company to see if it can be done.

      "I think any farmer, or anyone who loves growing things, will be enthralled with the ability, especially up here, to farm year-round," said John Hust, owner of the Shelter Bay Tomato Company.

      Hust is currently growing tomatoes, arugula, lettuce, and cilantro on four of the Boomer Bloomers. The Yoopertopia Growing System is so self-sufficient that after you plant the seeds, it practically takes care of itself. The climate is regulated so that the plants remain at 75 degrees, even when it's closer to 20 degrees outside, and each bed only needs to be watered every few weeks. The prototype costs about $25,000, but it requires very basic materials. Because he only used common parts bought off the shelf, Senchuk prefers not to call it an invention, but rather "functioning art."

      "The structure has an absolute minimalistic design. It only has five framing elements, and the framing elements are all the same, and truss manufacturers can make them anywhere in the United States," Senchuk said.

      Senchuk will be sending out his design to American manufacturers in the hopes that his simple and effective growing system will be made locally around the country and help create jobs. Once it is being manufactured on a larger scale, Senchuk expects the price to drop dramatically.

      Senchuk and Hust invite everyone to an open house on Saturday, December 1, and Sunday, December 2, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The greenhouse is located less than half a mile east of Christmas on the south side of M-28. Hust purchased that plot of land in the hopes of buying more growing systems.