Growing Year-Round in Minnesota

Ecolution reporting made possible by Seward Co-op, which has been a community-owned grocer since 1972: Together, we continue to cultivate a cooperative economy.

The Collaborative Power of Harvest Nation

In this 5th series of Ecolution, we have been talking with Dani Pieratos about the aeroponic farming of the Native women-led Harvest Nation:

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

Grow lights have become more financially viable and sustainable, thanks to LED full-spectrum innovations in China five years ago; halogens are more of an energy drainer.

We will work with the efficient micro-grid shipping containers of Box Power.

We had fun working on design with a student-run team from the University of Minnesota that helps startups with technical assistance, marketing, and engineering. They took our prototype model of bins and applied a new vision that enables us to have modular grow bags for different crop sizes and varieties.

We toured Lettuce Abound in St. Cloud. I am kind of a hippy, so this is when I got on board. I was expecting to see a less lively farming environment, but with the ventilation there, plants moved as if they were in natural wind. It smelled so fresh and real, despite not being in soil. I realized Harvest Nation could smell and feel like a real farm.

The growing method reduces the risks of listeria, salmonella, and other contamination. We use a reverse-osmosis filter to purify and recycle water in the system. No fears of bugs and droughts.
Ideally someday we can afford our own nitrate generator to feed the plants, since buying those nutrients is spendy.

Defining -Ponic Farming

Melissa Trent, Pillsbury United Communities

Melissa Trent, of Pillsbury United Communities, defines the difference between aquaponic, hydroponic, and aeroponic growing:

Put simply, the difference is the medium in which plants are grown and the way in which water and nutrients are delivered to the plant.   

To break this down a little further: All plants require macro nutrients, micronutrients (trace minerals), water, and sunlight for growth. Each of these growing methods deliver those inputs in different ways.   

  • Aquaponics utilize fish waste as a plant nutrient source, delivering circulated water directly to the roots, 24/7;
  • Hydroponics typically uses circulated water to deliver calculated nutrient solutions continuously, (or in the case of our indoor-hydroponic freight farm, water and nutrient solutions are delivered to the root systems at specific times during the day, and are controlled by a timer);
  • Aeroponics use misting technology to deliver precisely calculated nutrients to the root system at specific intervals throughout the day.  

In aquaponic growing, plants are grown without soil and fish waste is cycled through the system to provide essential nutrients for plant growth. Hydroponic and aeroponic growers utilize nutrient solutions, commonly sold on the market as “Nutrient A and B” (containing both macro and micronutrients) to provide essential plant nutrients to the water system.

Aeroponics does not use a plant growth medium. The roots are exposed to the air, giving the advantage of constant contact with O2, allowing the root zone to develop rapidly and giving plants a jump-start. 


Aquaculture Industry Study
A new three-year, $250,000 project led by the University of Minnesota Sea Grant program seeks to determine the potential for a sustainable food-fish aquaculture industry in Minnesota.
“Potential food-fish farmers planning to enter the industry are interested in credible data that will help them decide which production strategies and species are best suited for profitability,” said Amy Schrank, project lead and University of Minnesota Sea Grant fisheries and aquaculture extension educator.

“Meet the Disruptors” Q&A with Denise Pieratos

“Healthy Eating & Living on the Iron Range and Bois Forte Reservations

Harvest Nation website

When Big is Not Better

Why West Virginia pharmacies delivered COVID-19 vaccines faster

Why factory farm meat is dangerous — with solutions

Minnesota pushes to help smaller processing plants
In the wake of the problems caused by the processing plant closures last year, one idea has become increasingly popular: expanding the number and size of smaller meat processing operations to reduce the state’s reliance on big plants, particularly in the hog industry — 10 plants take roughly 85 percent of the pigs raised in Minnesota today.