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The water will flow from the fish tanks to a mechanical filtration system that removes the “solids,” as Haider describes the fish waste. Then it will flow through a biological filtration system that converts ammonia to nitrites, which are then converted to nitrates. The nitrates are consumed by plants, which then filter the water for the fish.
The cycle — known as the “poop loop” — begins anew.
Betsy Wieland of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture said interest in aquaponics has been growing in the past five years. Enthusiasts are “people who think creatively; they tend to be outside-the-box thinkers,” she said.
For an operation that aspires to be as sophisticated as Urban Organics, a space big enough to house the big tubs and related equipment was needed. After a two-year search, the city of St. Paul approached the firm with the idea of taking some of the space at the Hamm’s brewery site off E. Minnehaha Avenue.
Haider immediately was drawn to the idea; he grew up on the East Side, and his great-grandfather worked at Hamm’s.
In its 1950s heyday, Hamm’s was the nation’s fifth-largest beer company, employing 2,000 people at breweries in St. Paul, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston. And many Minnesotans likely can recall the Hamm’s bear in TV commercials touting beer “From the Land of Sky Blue Waters.”
“It is one of the most iconic beers of Minnesota,” said Doug Hoverson, a Minneapolis author who wrote a 2007 book, “Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota.”
A series of ownership changes, as well as the company’s delay in grasping the light-beer craze, doomed Hamm’s. It couldn’t compete with the marketing might of Miller Brewing Co. and Anheuser Busch. When the brewery closed in 1997, 350 people lost their jobs.
As the city encourages redevelopment of the complex, “we’re hoping people will rediscover the East Side,” said Cecile Bedor, St. Paul’s director of Planning and Economic Development. “We’re hoping to attract other users, as well. A lot of people are intrigued with the site. It is a very cool area.”
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752