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Aquaponics farm serves up fresh produce for St. Croix Valley HealthPartners

Urban Organics’ three-tier planter beds at the former Hamm’s Brewery in St. Paul are filled with organic Swiss chard, romaine lettuce and more. Submitted photo1 / 2
Hudson Hospital & Clinic Nutrition Services staff Brenda Jewell and Jennifer Conde with the first ever delivery of Urban Organics salad greens to the hospital kitchen. Submitted photo2 / 2

Salad greens do not get much fresher than what is being served at select HealthPartners hospitals and clinics in the St. Croix Valley area.

The health care provider recently teamed with a Twin Cities-based aquaponics farm to deliver certified-organic produce within 24 hours of being harvested. Both organizations touted the pilot project as an easy way for patients and staff to eat healthy and be eco-friendly.

The participating HealthPartners locations are Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, Minn., Hudson Hospital & Clinic, Westfields Hospital & Clinic in New Richmond, Wis., and Stillwater Medical Group.

"We are extremely proud of this partnership with HealthPartners," said Dave Haider with Urban Organics, which operates an aquaponics farm out of the former Hamm's Brewery in St. Paul. "This has been a great fit for us and it's exciting to be paired with a progressive group as we move forward."

Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a combination of two farming practices: aquaculture, or the farming of fish, and hydroponics, which is growing plants without soil.

Urban Organics' system involves raising Atlantic salmon and Arctic char in 14 fiberglass tanks. Solid waste from the fish is captured to make nutrient-rich water to grow the plants, which in turn filter nitrates from the water.

The method uses about 2 percent of the water that would be used if the plants were grown in soil, Hader said. The climate-controlled facility also keeps plants in ideal conditions regardless of the weather outside.

"We have consistent volume for our customers 12 months a year," he said.

In addition to greens being used in patient meals and served in cafeterias, a retail option called Greens To Go began offering take-home containers at the HealthPartners locations in May. "Fresh and sustainably grown foods are an important part of our commitment to health," said Steven Massey, CEO and president of Westfields Hospital & Clinic, in a news release. The feedback we've heard from patients and employees confirmed that this was a good decision."

For more information on aquaponics and where to find Urban Organics produce, visit www.urbanorganics.com.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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