Winter is around the corner in Minnesota, bringing freezing temperatures, plenty of snow and an abrupt end to the outdoor growing season.
But at Urban Organics (urbanorganics.com), an 87,000-square-foot aquaponics farm in St. Paul, vertical fields of snappy fresh greens and herbs thrive under an artificial sun. Salmon and arctic char, in plentiful numbers, will swim against the current in massive, round tanks. Both fish and produce will provide fresh, local options for grocers and restaurateurs who would otherwise be forced to bring in such products from far away.
“There’s no seasonal affective disorder in here,” said Dave Haider, who founded Urban Organics along with his wife, Kristen Koontz Haider, and with Chris Ames and Fred Haberman. “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.”
Three-plus months after debuting in its new, vastly larger location, Urban Organics continues to expand its operation — with the capacity to churn out 7,000 pounds of fish a week (up from a mere 100 pounds per week at its first location) along with about 10,000 pounds of produce (up from 250 pounds).
And with a warehouse full of 25,000-gallon tanks and skyward-reaching trays of lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, arugula, basil and parsley, Urban Organics — which the WateReuse Association just named 2017 agricultural project of the year, a national award — is doing so in a very green way.
Here’s how it works: The fish provide the nutrients necessary to grow the plants. The plants, in turn, act as a filter to improve the water quality for the fish. Reusing the water over and over again allows Urban Organics to use just a fraction of what conventional farming would require.
As for the finished products? The fish is mostly nabbed by restaurateurs — Fish Guys handles the distribution, to places like Birchwood Cafe and Spoon and Stable. And the greens are boxed up into nine different salad blends and sold to various grocery stores and co-ops. Even with the great increase in production, Haider said, they’re struggling to fill the overwhelming number of requests.
“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.”
A season of selling
It’s time for holiday markets, and the Twin Cities area is overflowing with them. Among the highlights:
• Edina’s Winter Market (Edina 5-0 mall at 50th/France, between Title Nine and Annika Bridal, 50thandfrance.com/events): Saturdays from now through Dec. 16, varying times; theme nights range from “stocking stuffers” to “men’s shopping day.”
• European Christmas Market at Union Depot (214 E. 4th St., St. Paul, East Plaza, uniondepot.org/events): Dec. 1-10, varying times.
• Linden Hills Holiday Market at Sunnyside Gardens (3723 44th St., Mpls., lindenhillsfarmersmarket.org): every Sunday through Dec. 17, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Mill City Farmers Market (704 S. 2nd St., Mpls., millcityfarmersmarket.org): Dec. 2, 9 and 16, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
• St. Paul Farmers Market (290 E. 5th St., stpaulfarmersmarket.com): Dec. 2, 9, 16 and 23, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
• Schmidt Holiday Market (900-876 W. 7th St., St. Paul): Nov. 24-26, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Read full reviews and other restaurant news at startribune.com/dining.