Urban Organics is an 87,000 square feet (8082 square meters) aquaponics farm in St. Paul, Minnesota, Unite States. Winter in Minnesota is not for the faint hearted because of their sub zero temperatures, snow and abrupt end to the outdoor farming industry until winter’s end.
In order to avoid the harsh winter, Urban Organics built their facility to counteract the effects of seasonality and negate the industry stopping effects of winter. Urban Organics boasts vast halls hosting vertical fields of the freshest greens and herbs growing under UV lights. In addition to herbs and vegetables, Urban Organics’ facility contains several large water tanks that help grow Salmon and Arctic Char. Produce and fish provide the community with fresh, locally grown, organic options during the winter as well as the rest of the year. Grocers and restaurateurs are benefiting for the cost effective product as without Urban Organics the produce would need to come from further away and therefore costs would be higher.
“There’s no seasonal affective disorder in here,” said Dave Haider, who founded Urban Organics. “It just makes sense — not just from an environmental standpoint but also from a food safety standpoint. It’s sustainable, it’s consistent and it’s a local option.”
The operation is already incredibly successful as growers see it as an investment in the future. Urban organics plans to open a new location just three months after unveiling their most recent, largest location as demand is far surpassing the current supply. With their expansion plans, they will be able to distribute over 10,000 pounds of produce per week, which is a big increase from their initial output of 250 pounds.
Due to their skyward-reaching trays of lettuce, Swiss chard, basil, parsley, kale and arugula, Urban Organics was awarded the 2017 agricultural project of the year, a national award handed out by the WateReuse association. It is important to remember that the water used in this operation is constantly recycled again and again. The fish put nutrients into the water that can be used in the plant growth and vice versa. The symbiotic growth system is able to significantly reduce water consumption and minimise the negative impacts on the environment.
When it comes down to distribution, the greens are boxed into nine different selections of salad blends and sold to grocery stores and co-ops. Haider continued by mentioning again that even with the increase in sales locations, they are struggling to meet demand.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” he said. “But we’ve had so much support from the local community. Right now we can’t even come close to keeping up with the demand.”
If Urban Organics can teach us anything, it’s that the future of farming is slowly moving away from traditional farming methods and indoor to aquaponics to avoid such growing pains as seasonality. The hope is that more of the farming industry, particularly horticulture, will move towards the vertical farming route in order to not only meet growing local demands, but global demand while addressing essential sustainability goals.
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