Walls: Urban Organics

Urban Organics
Photo by Cameron Wittig

The Hamm’s Brewery is a hulking red brick industrial campus sitting inert on St. Paul’s East Side. It closed in 1997, leaving an ugly graffiti-scrawled ghost town behind. Dave Haider is an East Side guy. “Born and raised,” he says. His great-grandfather worked at the brewery back in the ’40s.

Growing up, he remembers that everybody on the East Side used to go to fill up jugs of spring water from the wells. “So it’s real weird farming here every day.”

Haider’s farm is certified organic, but it doesn’t look like any farm you’ve ever seen. Found in one of the old beer storage buildings in the vacated brewery, it’s like something out of science fiction or maybe even ancient mythology, with Haider as the hero lifting the curse and bringing life back to his once sacred land.

Three massive tanks filled with tilapia are connected by burbling PVC water tubes to racks and racks of kale, Swiss chard, and parsley reaching up to the ceiling. It’s a closed loop of aquaculture and hydroponics referred to as aquaponics, where the waste from the fish is sent through a filtration system in order to fertilize the greens.

Haider’s fish and produce are both sold at Lunds and Byerly’s. And his farm is the beachhead of a revitalization effort on the East Side—there’s a new brewery open down the street and a distillery almost ready to go next door.