Many years ago, I stood with Dave Haider in a nearly empty grain silo at the old Hamm’s Brewery staring at a blue pool.
He had big dreams. One day, wife Kristen called him into the room, where she was watching TV.
“Look,” she said, and pointed. On the screen was an aquaponics farm, a closed-loop system for farming fish and produce. The fish enrich the water, the water is filtered through the root systems of the plants, and both are eventually edible for humans.
“You should do that.”
“OK,” said Haider.
And thus began their journey, along with partners Fred Haberman and Chris Ames, to implement Urban Organics aquaponics farm. The Hamm’s Brewery was their first location, and a second is now up and running in the Historic Schmidt Brewery. They’ve come a long way since a single pool in a silo.
Five things to know about the Twin Cities largest aquaponics farm:
1. Urban Organics greens are now available for purchase, including green and red kale, arugula, bok choy, green and red romaine, swiss chard, and green and red leaf lettuces. Get them at Hy Vee supermarkets in Eagan and Savage and at Seward, Wedge, and Lakewinds co-ops.
Want to taste the fish? Get it at Birchwood Cafe. The Fish Guys (local fish wholesaler led in part by Tim McKee) will be distributing Urban Organics fish, so watch for it at stores and restaurants in the coming months (more info on the fish below).
2. The farm was recently featured in The Guardian as a Top 10 innovative “next-gen” urban farm. Urban Organics was noted for using only 2 percent of the water used in conventional agriculture, and for its mission to prove the viability of aquaponics systems overall.
Other eco-friendly perks of the Urban Organics aquaponics system: they do not rely on herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers, and raising fish indoors takes pressure off oceans and wild-caught species.
More food raised in urban centers means less food traveling in from far-flung places. Urban Organics calls its product “hyper-local.”
3. The numbers: The 87,000 square foot Schmidt farm aims to provide 275,000 pounds of fresh fish and 475,000 pounds of organically grown produce per year.
Currently, the farm is at 30 percent capacity for produce, and they project being at full capacity by fall. Getting their Arctic Char and Atlantic Salmon to a harvestable size of eight to 10 pounds will take another 11 to 20 months.
4. If you happen to find yourself at a HealthPartners hospital, you might wind up eating Urban Organics food from your patient meal tray, cafeteria salad bar, or grab-and-go retail kiosk.
5. Part of the Urban Organics mission statement is to grow fresh food in urban “food deserts,” which would not otherwise have access to locally produced food. And with an indoor system, they can do it year-round, even in the dead of a St. Paul winter.
For more information on Urban Organics: urbanorganics.com
(Toggle around in their website. It’s kinda fun.)
700 Minnehaha Ave. E., St. Paul
543 James Ave. W.