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The snowy UP remains a predominantly rural region that experiences treacherous winters and limited access to fresh food. Region-wide solutions to guide the UP toward a more resilient food system include cold storage grants for farmers, streamlined food access programs in grocery stores and farmers’ markets, and educational classes on growing and preserving your own food. One such pioneering technology is aquaponic farming, and two such pioneers are Jenn and Dustin Reed of Minnie Farms.
What is aquaponics? An aquaponic growing system is a sustainable farming technique where fish feed the plants and, in turn, the plants purify the water, with the only input being fish food and supplemental iron. Jenn and Dustin are creating a living ecosystem within their greenhouse, a harmonious, self-sufficient, constantly cycling system that produces a premium year-round product: clean, nutrient-dense greens.
Earthworms in the media bed assist in breaking down fish waste into micronutrients needed by the plants.
“It takes a few years for those nutrients to get broken down,” explains Dustin. “The system is still evolving: It has the necessary nutrients to grow, and it will improve over time.”
The farm has also expanded to include field-grown produce.
Jenn and Dustin’s idea for a farm came from taking a nutrition class at Eastern Oregon University, which shed light on the importance of locally sourced food and the realities of our current food system.
The couple also chose farm life in part because of their late dog, Layla. Layla was born with no eyes, so Jenn and Dustin wanted to cultivate a big, safe space for her to roam. Dustin recalls one of their very first harvests.
“We had a couple bunches of carrots for sale. I had one beautiful carrot. Then I was like, the carrot’s gone!” said Dustin. “Even though she had no eyes, Layla had taken and walked off with the most perfect carrot.”
In honor of Layla and her favorite crop, the couple incorporated that moment in their logo. Pups are still a big part of this story: Minnie Farms is now home to dogs Goose and Indy, plus their chickens, and a few koi.
When Jenn and Dustin moved to the Keweenaw in 2016 to start their farm, they thought they were embarking on a new adventure, but as it turns out, they were just returning to their roots. After buying their land, the couple discovered Jenn’s great-grandmother, Minnie, had grown up in Lake Linden just a couple miles from their property. The coincidence caused the couple to name their farm after Minnie, with a play on “mini”, emphasizing the “start small” aspect of the farm.
“If you grow too much or expand like crazy, the quality changes,” says Dustin. “Sure, it would be cool to sell aquaponics to Florida, but we want to focus on expanding aquaponics to our local area. It’s the best way to have local greens throughout our long, dark winters.”
Support Jenn and Dustin on their mission to bring healthy, nutritious food to the UP by choosing Minnie Farms aquaponic lettuce, mixed microgreens, and more this year at the Co-op!
Photos and Article by Lily Venable