Aquaponics Company Plans Big Facility In Cambridge, Minnesota

Aquaponics Company Plans Big Facility In Cambridge, Minnesota

Stars Hallow Co.’s new aquaponics facility in Cambridge will raise river catfish and koi, similar to the fish in this photo. Only the catfish will be sold as food.(Photo: Depositphotos)

Aquaponics Company Plans Big Facility In Cambridge, Minnesota

By: Matt M. Johnson February 7, 2018 4:17 pm 0

If the ground in Cambridge weren’t frozen right now, Akashlina Haider said he would be pretty talkative about Minnesota’s newest aquaponics facility in the works.

Haider, co-founder, and CEO of Stars Hollow Co., said he is reluctant to say much about the subject until the project gets started. He has to wait until March or April until it is warm enough to begin construction on a 164,000-square-foot production warehouse on the north edge of town.

The project was largely under the radar until Wednesday. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said in a news release that it would give Center City-based Stars Hollow Co. an $812,960 grant from the state’s Job Creation Fund. The $12.3 million facility is expected to create 156 jobs in Cambridge, pop. 8,100.

The company will receive the state funding once it has met those hiring and investment commitments. The new jobs at Stars Hollow will be created within three years and will pay wages averaging $21.17 an hour, according to DEED.

Haider said he would have preferred to announce the project once the first shovel went into the ground this spring. The company, he said, is getting more attention than he wants right now — particularly from potential vendors for the vegetables and fish Stars Hollow raises.

“Whole Foods is bugging me,” Haider said in an interview, noting that he has also heard from Kowalski’s Markets and Coburns.

Aquaponics is a system of indoor farming in which fish raised onsite produce waste that is in turn used as an organic food source for plants. The plants then filter the water for the fish.

Minnesota’s aquaponics industry has grown from three producers in 2010 to more than 40, according to the University of Minnesota. One of the more high-profile aquaponics businesses in the state is Urban Organics’ 87,000-square-foot farm that opened at St. Paul’s Schmidt Brewery last year.

Haider and Stars Hollow co-founder and President Jami Haider have quietly raised fish and vegetables in a 10,000-square-foot facility for seven years in Center City, but recently began looking for a place to expand. The couple considered locations in Wadena and Elk River but went with a spot in the Cambridge Opportunity Industrial Park after the city offered them 12.53 acres for $1 last fall.

Cambridge proved an ideal spot because it is close to the Haiders’ home, and is within a one-hour drive of Stars Hollow customers in the Twin Cities, said Stan Gustafson, the city’s economic development director. The city will recoup the value of the Stars Hollow land — $818,420 according to the city – through a tax increment financing district, he said.

The Cambridge Planning Commission and City Council have already approved the project, Gustafson said.

The facility will have space to raise the equivalent of 10 acres of produce because the plants can be stacked vertically, Haider said. Crops will include tomatoes and strawberries, but he said he also wants to try his hand at wasabi, a spicy plant used in Japanese cooking. Wasabi is currently grown by only one U.S. producer, Haider said.

Stars Hollow will also raise koi fish and river catfish. The catfish will be sold as food. Haider will keep the koi. Some of his koi are more like pets than farm animals.

“I even have fish that are 13 years old that have names,” he said.

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