By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — You wouldn’t expect one of the ten most innovative farms in the world to be in the heart of a city, in a former warehouse of a long-closed brewery. But Urban Organics is not your ordinary produce farm.

“This is not what the farms in Wisconsin look like,” said Kristen Haider, who grew up in a farming community and moved to the city to get away from it. She cofounded Urban Organics with her husband in 2013.

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Urban Organics combines an aquaculture produce-growing operation with a hydroculture fish farming operation into one unified aquaponics farm.

“Is this the future of farming? I think so,” said David Haider, who was looking for a career change from the construction business, and has spent the past four years constructing his farm facility. “We’ve got kale stacked up to the ceiling. We do we go up 16 feet total.”

After operating a test facility in the old Hamm’s Brewery, Urban Organics moved to a much larger warehouse in the former Schmidt Brewery. If the water’s good enough to brew beer, it’s good enough to grow Swiss chard.

“I think it’s amazing, just how far we’ve come, how we’ve been able to expand,” said Kristen Haider.

According to Urban Organics, this is one of the largest USDA organic aquaponics farms in the world. An aquaponics farm is all about the water. Urban Organics has about two acres of vegetables planted in 6 inches of constantly circulating water, beneath LED lights that simulate the sun.

“I don’t know if anything’s as good as the sun, but it’s a close second,” said David Haider.

That water comes from the fish side of the operation, where Urban Organics is raising arctic char. The fish essentially fertilizes the salad.

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“They’re probably the hardest workers in the facility,” laughed David Haider. “Basically the fish are going to poop. That’s what they do. That’s what we need them to do.”

A two-step filtration system removes everything but the nitrates from the water. Those nitrates help the romaines and the Swiss chards to grow more quickly. It’s about 35 days from seed to harvest.

“Things we’re harvesting and packaging today could end up on the shelf as early as today or tomorrow,” said David Haider.

The fish take longer to go from hatchling to someone’s dinner, closer to a two-year process.

Because the water is recycled within the farm, they use 98 percent less water than a conventional farm. And you get local fish, local greens, all year round.

“We really need to start focusing on water usage. I think farms similar to this probably is the future,” said David Haider.

The 87,000-square-foot Schmidt farm is large enough to provide 275,000 pounds of fresh fish and 475,000 pounds of organically grown produce annually.

Nine blends of Urban Organics greens, including green and red kale, arugula, bok choy, green and red romaine, Swiss chard, and green and red leaf lettuces are available at Hy-Vee supermarkets in Eagan and Savage, at Lunds & Byerlys stores in Northeast Minneapolis, Uptown, Highland in St. Paul, Burnsville, and Eagan and at various co-ops including Seward, Wedge and Lakewinds.

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Urban Organics
700 Minnehaha Avenue East
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55106

Jason DeRusha