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Carlton Jackson of Tunnel Vision Hoops

Meet Carlton Jackson, co-founder of Tunnel Vision Hoops, a company that makes high tunnel hoop houses.

What is Tunnel Vision Hoops?
Tunnel Vision Hoops (TVH) is a high tunnel hoop house designer, manufacturer and installation company. Born from Cleveland's local food movement, TVH works on season extension because we believe in the power of food. In our minds, season extension is about small farmers and families wanting opportunities to grow year-round, bring in more revenue, and ultimately, the opportunity to lead less stressful more enjoyable lives.  
Why did you start your business?
My partners, Todd Alexander and Michael Walton, and I started Tunnel Vision Hoops because we believe that the health of any given urban community will be directly proportional to its relationship with local food production. A healthy urban food system improves the local economy, physical health, creates jobs, reduces fossil fuel and fresh water consumption, recycles food waste, revitalizes vacant urban land and restores neighborhoods.
Our growing season is May 15 to September 15, or roughly 120 days. If we are going to make local food production a viable economic engine we must create an infrastructure that extends that growing season. There are only a two ways of doing that on a large scale: expensive modern computerized greenhouses with hydroponic and/or aquaculture systems; or passive solar high tunnel hoops house like ours at a fraction of the cost. We believe that we have created a better system than those available on the market. 
How did you come up with the idea?
In 2009, Michael Walton had an old fashioned barn raising to put up a high tunnel hoop house on his urban farm in Cleveland. He bought the instructions off the internet and invited friends and fellow farmers to the installation day.
The installation instructions proved to be more challenging than anticipated, and at the end of the day all that remained were Todd, Michael and I standing around a half completed hoop house. After a week, the hoop house was completed. We believed we could improve the design and add some new features. Today, we have designed and built high tunnel hoop houses all over Ohio.
What was the biggest surprise in starting your business?
We haven't had to search for customers. The market is ripe and we have great systems. Our customers include universities, public schools, community gardens, churches, non-profits, research facilities and small market farmers.
What resources/organizations here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
Todd Goldstein and Dar Caldwell of Shaker LaunchHouse supported us when all we had was an idea. They gave us office space and connected us to movers and shakers in the community. We started the business with less than $190 between us. That summer, we had four high school interns and two groups of John Carroll University marketing students who helped us hone our ideas and plans. 
Who was your first customer and where did you find them?
With $20 out of that $190 we bought some materials. I spent about 120 hours creating a functional scale model to present at a local food event. The event was packed and we were a hit. Two days later we got an email from Chris Bond, horticulturist at the Case Western Reserve University Squire Valleevue Farm telling us he wanted our first system to be constructed at the farm. That fall in 2010 we went on to build for the Cleveland Botanical Garden, the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities' Cleveland Crop program and ReImagining Cleveland
What inspires you?
I am inspired by creative problem solving. I am inspired by the opportunity to speak to people about the frailty of our food system. I am inspired by the people who care more about building a better world than putting cash in the bank. I am inspired by the people who have supported TVH from the very first moment we talked about the idea.
What’s next for you and your company?
We just sold our first out of state do-it-yourself kit. We are headed to Warren and Columbus to build this summer and we are poised to spread out across North America with our systems and new fold-up and free standing growing benches. People can come and see my season extension and food presentation on October 6 at the Cuyahoga County Master Gardener Gardening Through the Seasons fall seminar.

Interview by Karin Rice Connelly

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