Dani Pieratos, Harvest Nation

This content is underwritten by Valvoline Instant Oil Change across Northern Minnesota, a woman-owned business supporting women and families across the region.

Dani Pieratos. Photo Sarah Whiting

A few years ago, Denise Pieratos worked on the History Channel’s “Cities of the Future” competition showcasing what the infrastructure of sustainable food production might look like in 100 years. The MIT graduate and architect recognized the looming crisis of depleted oil reserves, and it worried her. With dependence on food trucked and flown in, how would her Bois Forte Band of Chippewa family and neighbors in northern Minnesota survive?

About a billion dollars’ worth of food in the Western Lake Superior region is brought in annually. Only a million dollars of food is produced in the area. Pieratos got to work on a plan with her two daughters and sister.

The result is Harvest Nation aeroponic farming. When fully funded, nutrient-infused water and full-spectrum light bulbs will grow food indoors in the middle of winter. Community-supported agriculture sales will support the work. The goal is to replicate farms globally in the future.

Dani Pieratos, one of Denise’s daughters, is helping to lead the Harvest Nation mission.

Aeroponic Farming

My mother began figuring out how aeroponic farming would enable us to grow food at home — as Bear clan members, we love berries and wanted to know we could eat strawberries in the winter even if the food distribution system failed.

Being from an Indigenous community, our way of life is to share food — it is part of our survival story. My mother started thinking bigger than household use — creating a whole farm concept in our community.

Once we have our space, we will be growing the highest in-demand fruits and vegetables. Heirloom tomatoes. Black chickpeas. Blue potatoes, red potatoes. Greens.

Our aeroponic farming system is designed to grow food in 90 percent less space than regular soil farming, with 90 percent less water and nutrients.

Looking for a Farm Home

Harvest Nation continues to prepare for supply chain impacts from risks like pandemics and climate change.

My mother Denise Pieratos, primary founder and lead farm system designer, says repeatedly that she wishes we did not have to design a unique system, but existing aeroponic farming set-ups on the market are expensive and limiting. As far as we have found, no one else is pushing what is possible in aeroponics for the variety of crops we plan to grow. We are now looking at warehouse properties on the Iron Range to house the farm.

We are hopeful for the many other Minnesota initiatives coming together to make food justice and food security a shared responsibility. These include the Emerging Farmers Working Group with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which hosts a resource- sharing meeting for Indigenous farmers and foragers. In 2022, my friend Renika Love and I will conduct food sovereignty research through the Bois Forte Food Sovereignty and Sustainable Agriculture Group. I am also helping form a land trust, Land Access Alliance, which will support farmers and foragers in our region.

The Blandin Foundation granted Harvest Nation a capacity-building budget through the end of December. Supporting the development of grassroots organizations is critical to building assets in communities that have been disenfranchised from wealth and wellbeing.

Additionally, we are collaborating with University of Minnesota engineering students to test a new iteration of our system. If it proves successful, we will save up to 50 percent on our grow lighting and energy budget. I get excited about interdisciplinary projects that involve learning across sectors.

The World Bank’s data tells us the global population will need to increase food production 70 percent by 2050. As staggering as that is, multisector approaches are forming for truly reliable (and local) solutions. Minnesota has a lot of heart and a lot of talent, and because of that we are going to be okay.