Elmhurst hoop house taken down amid hope for its future

Virgil family still seeking path to allow revival of temporary garden structure next fall

(Elmhurst Titan video by Dave Lemery)

ELMHURST – It only took about an hour and 40 minutes for the controversial hoop house on Fairview Avenue to come down on Friday, Feb. 24.

But the issues that were raised by its construction, the backlash against it, and the backlash against the backlash, aren’t likely to go away anytime soon.

The Virgil family, which built the hoop house in their backyard to extend the growing season of their garden, is still pursuing an appeal of the city’s decision to demand that it be removed. The date of that hearing has not yet been set.

Word of that decision led to an outpouring of support on behalf of the Nicole and Dan Virgil during the Feb. 6 City Council meeting, and social media postings on the topic have sparked heated debates both by those in favor of the hoop house and those against it.

Dan and Nicole Virgil (top and bottom left) and friends Lisa Martain Hoffer (center) and Carlos Pierre-Antoine disassemble the Virgils' hoop house Friday, Feb. 24, in Elmhurst.
Dan and Nicole Virgil (top and bottom left) and friends Lisa Martain Hoffer (center) and Carlos Pierre-Antoine disassemble the Virgils’ hoop house Friday, Feb. 24, in Elmhurst.

Despite their disappointment at having to take the hoop house down a month earlier than they’d planned, the Virgils and their friends, Carlos Pierre-Antoine and Lisa Martain Hoffer, were in good spirits Friday as they worked to carefully disassemble the structure – clearly hoping that they would get to put it up again next fall, if an accord can be reached with the city.

Dan Virgil described how the original construction took several consecutive weekends in the fall of 2015, but that it went up much faster the second time around in the fall of 2016.

“It takes a day or two to put up, with all the pieces cut to size,” he said.

Aside from some planks and two-by-fours to give shape to the doorway wall and the opposite end, the remainder of the hoop house mostly consisted of plastic tubes and plastic sheeting. At the start of the disassembly, the structure showed no signs that it was likely to give way to the moderate winds seen Friday, but once the roof and the sidewalls were taken down, the rib-like plastic tubes that gave it its hoop-like shape would sometimes sway as the work went on.

During a brief break, Nicole Virgil was asked how she and her family had become involved in the “locavore” movement – a trend in recent years of people wanting to eat more food grown near or at their homes.

“I didn’t know there was a ‘locavore’ movement,” she replied. “I watched the Netflix documentary ‘Food, Inc.’ … and I just thought I’d like to have fresh food.”

“I didn’t know there was a ‘locavore’ movement. I watched the Netflix documentary ‘Food, Inc.’ … and I just thought I’d like to have fresh food.”

The online film review site Metacritic describes “Food, Inc.” as a movie where “filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that’s been hidden from the American consumer.”

Nicole Virgil explained that having the hoop house allows her children to more easily take part in the growing process in the wintertime, and that its height made it superior to lower-to-the-ground alternatives.

“[The kids] plant, they harvest,” she said. “We can work, we can stand up. We go down the aisles with compost.”

Crops grown within the hoop house included snow peas, spinach, garlic (which “has to go through a freeze,” Nicole Virgil said), arugula, Siberian kale, red Russian kale and lettuce.

“The seeds won’t germinate if the soil is too cold,” she said.

The twin planting beds that had previously been housed within the hoop house are seen after the structure was dismantled.
The twin planting beds that had previously been housed within the hoop house are seen after the structure was dismantled.

By the time the work was done, there wasn’t much sign that the hoop house had ever been there. The twin planting beds that had been sheltered from the elements didn’t look much different from those that were already outside – with the exception that the previously covered beds had a number of green shoots sprouting up from the soil.

As the Virgils went about putting away the structural elements that made up the hoop house, it remained unclear if they’d be allowed to ever use them again in Elmhurst. But if they do get permission, they’ll be ready to erect the hoop house again come next fall.

“It’s a nice hoop house,” Nicole Virgil said with a grin. “I have to say.”

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