Photos by Caitlin Abrams
I saw the future, and it is open for business. The future of fish, that is. As regular readers of this space know, I am slightly obsessed with the mad overfishing of the oceans, which has led to more than 50 percent of the fish humans now eat coming from aquaculture. I’m also an avid follower of local Minnesota and Wisconsin developments in growing fish in local buildings.
But today, well, today is a milestone in local aquaculture as Urban Organics, the newest, biggest, fanciest thing to happen to growing fish inside of local buildings is open! And it’s so cool!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the deal:
Once upon a time, St. Paul had the Hamm’s Brewery, which was renowned across the land for producing great lawn mower beer using the intensely pure and clear aquifer deep beneath it. The brewery is long gone, and while the main brewhouse was an abandoned mess for years, it no longer is! Inside, the floors have been re-cemented, the walls sealed, and Pentair—the Swiss company that has its US headquarters in Minneapolis—has helped install five aquarium sized fish tanks full of tilapia, six 18-foot high stacks of layered levels of chard, kale, cilantro, and bright grow lights, and—voila! The fish fertilize the plants, the plants clean the fish-water, there are a lot of fancy filter mechanisms and beneficial bacteria here and there between them to make the whole thing work and, just like that Urban Organics is open!
Co-owners/ co-founders Fred Haberman, Dave and Kristen Koontz Haider, and Chris Ames have been working on getting the doors open since the spring of 2012, and the first shipments of produce raised in the former Hamm’s brewery are going out the door now.
As of this second, the cilantro, chard, and kale from Urban Organics is available only at Lund’s and Byerly’s. Sometime this summer, after the fish get bigger, Lund’s and Byerly’s will also carry Urban Organics tilapia. In the future there may be carrots, cucumbers, limes—who knows?! There will also be school and public tours, but for now Urban Organics—one of the only Certified Organic aquaponic facilities in the whole country—is trying to get all of its ducks in a row. Or, rather, all its tilapia, chard, and kale. Hooray! Way to take pressure off the oceans and get us local greens too. It’s a happy day in St. Paul, and for the sustainable future.