Urban Organics

The Lempert Report
July 17, 2014

An Aquaponics farm that leverages the symbiotic relationship between fish and plants.

When we hear "innovation" we immediately think of the latest mobile device, or wearable camera - but Not all innovations are about shiny new technology. Sometimes true innovation can be just tweaking a very established methodology. Like - Farming. Ancient civilizations would often plant crops on river islands, which would allow them to be naturally and automatically fertilized by the waste of wild, local fish. Take that old concept, bring it into 2014 and you have “Urban Organics”. The Twin Cities first indoor organic aquaponics farm. 

Fred Haberman, Co-Founder, Urban Organics:

Urban Organics is an urban farm. it's an Aquaponics farm where we, in essence, leverage the symbiotic relationship between fish and plants. As an Aquaponics farm we're growing tilapia and with the tilapia of course they'll created waste and what we'll do is we'll filter out that waste and then transform that waste from ammonia into nitrate that then organically, USDA organically will fertilize organic products. Green such as basil, char, kale, cilantro.  And with this system we are able to use 2% of the water as opposed to conventional agriculture. What's really innovative about our system is that we can change up the crops within a month, so for example, if there's a huge desire for kale. or for a different type of herb we can begin to plant that and it will be on the shelf within 5 weeks. 

 PHIL:  But how is this innovative system beneficial for the consumer?  

Fred Haberman

Consumers today are looking for a healthier alternative as well as produce that has nutrition.  Most of the produce that people are eating in Minnesota year round comes from water contained areas such as the South West and when you are shipping the produce from a long distance it's going to lose some of it's nutritional value. 

I believe that consumers would want to buy our produce not just because it's more sustainable, but because our produce which you can buy fresh within 24 hrs of it being harvested - our produce is going to have more nutritional content that something that was picked days ago being shipped to Minnesota.  In addition to the health benefits it's also going to taste better and fresher. 

PHIL: And Urban Organics does more than grow fresh organic vegetables. This system addresses an array of modern day concerns - water supply, disparate food systems, sustainable energy, and urban renewal. 

Fred Haberman

With Urban Organics we wanted to create something truly innovative, we wanted to create something that took on so many of the food challenges that so many food companies take on..and governments are beginning to consider. The other aspect of our story is that we are located in the Hamm's Building which happens to be in a food desert where people have difficulty accessing or challenged access to nutritious food. So, not only are we providing a product that's very sustainable and healthy but also turning around a community. Since we've been in that community we've already seen 4 businesses pop up.  Imagine this system being replicated in hunger hot spots around the world. IMagine a system where we have 500, 000 square feet where people have the protein, and nutrition on site. They could manage that in Africa, Singapore Detroit…you can begin to imagine how in the future we have 2 billion more people, water issues, you can dig a well and you can begin to have protein and nutrition fresh, onsite, without any shipping. Pretty powerful opportunity to improve the food system and improve the lives of people locally.