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Sustainability Grows at UMD Project

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Michael Mageau, UMD assistant professor of environmental studies, and Lana Fralich, Silver Bay city administrator, in the greenhouse at Victus Farm.

Food and fuel production on the shores of Lake Superior

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David Abazs, who has a strong background in sustainable agriculture, supports the vegetable production effort.
Basil was one of the first crops to be grown at Victus Farm.
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Baylor Radtke oversees the fish hatchery.

Creating jobs, producing fuel and food, and improving the environment is the focus of a partnership between the City of Silver Bay, Minn., and the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) Center for Sustainable Community Development (CSCD). The project has created Victus Farm, a facility that houses a self-contained food and energy-generating ecosystem made up of a greenhouse, fish tanks, and algae production areas.

Michael Mageau, UMD assistant professor of environmental studies, said that there are examples of groups bringing two components together for food production but this is the first project that he knows of in the world to incorporate three systems: fish, plants, and algae.

At Victus Farm, the cycle goes around and around: the fish waste feeds the plants and the fish are sold for food. The plant waste is composted and as it breaks down, it creates heat to warm the water. The plants are sold for food. The algae is separated into oil and algae matter. The oil is sold or used for fuel and finally, the algae matter feeds the fish. The plants grow in carefully controlled, nutrient rich water, rather than soil.

“Algae is a rich source of renewable energy,” Mageau said. “They are among the fastest growing plants in the world, and half their weight is oil — oil that can be used for fuel. We are still looking for an optimal balance of what species of algae gives us a yield of oil, plus serves as a good food for our fish.”

The new facility is located in the Silver Bay Eco-Industrial Development Site, just north of Silver Bay on Scenic Highway 61.

Through the partnership, over 1.2 million dollars has been raised to construct the 8,600-square-foot facility. UMD’s CSCD has worked with the City of Silver Bay for four years to secure funding and operate the project. CSCD is coordinating all process operations as well as on-going research and educational programs. In return, the CSCD will receive the revenues generated by the facility.

Lana Fralich, Silver Bay city administrator, said the project has already drawn interest nationally and internationally. "We see ourselves as leaders in the region to help other small communities create their own business opportunities," she said. "We connect the public sector, the private sector, the business sector, and the educational sector."

Joining Mageau on the project team are David Abazs, farmer and senior fellow, Endowed Chair in Agriculture, U of M Twin Cities campus; Baylor Radtke, recent UMD Environmental Studies Program graduate; and Andrew Klemer, UMD emeritus professor of biology. Funding support was contributed by University of Minnesota’s North East Region Sustainable Development Partnership, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Iron Range Resources, Minnesota State Legislature, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, and Minnesota Lake Superior Coastal Program.



In October 2012, the project began selling lettuce, cilantro, parsley, and basil to area restaurants. They have added another crop, arugula, to the plants they grow. Mageau said Victus Farm is already selling produce to the Duluth Grille, the Lake Avenue Cafe, Va Bene Berarducci's Caffe, and the Whole Foods Co-op in Grand Marais. Every week, 600 plants are added and harvesting begins on that crop about three weeks later.

Victus Farm is also growing about 1000 tilapia, which will be ready to be sold in spring 2013. The tilapia reach full growth, at about two pounds, in nine months, whereas a perch or walleye takes two to three years.

The algae oil process is proving to be a little more complicated than working with the plants or the fish. Mageau said they will grow five different species of algae, each in its own mini-trough. “We need to find out which species grows the fastest and which is the easiest to break down and extract the oil,” Mageau said.

Victus Farm is an energetic collaborative effort that promises to deliver sustainable energy production and healthy locally grown food. "Our concept is innovative but yet simple…it makes sense," said Fralich. 

Written by Cheryl Reitan and Madiha Mirza, February 2013

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