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Experimental Silver Bay farm is producing results

Mike Mageau (far left), director of Victus Farm, explains how water at the facility is continually recycled, while Lake County Commissioner Rich Sve (left), Silver Bay Mayor Joanne Johnson (center) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar look on. (Kyle Farris /

SILVER BAY — A greenhouse and fishery that sits along the North Shore is using the same supply of recycled water to put fresh produce in grocery aisles and baked tilapia on plates at local restaurants. Now, developers want to stretch the idea statewide.

Mike Mageau, director of Victus Farm in Silver Bay, says work is already underway to expand the nearly self-sustaining operations at the farm to reach more Minnesotans in more places.

“People were kind of invested in this idea because they thought it could be a new way to produce food,” said Mageau, an assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “And it’s working. I think this is going to become a business, and you’re going to see these pop up in Minnesota and all over the place in the next five years.”

A research partnership between the city of Silver Bay and UMD, Victus Farm relies on natural exchanges of nutrients in water to produce its goods. Fish waste in the water fertilizes the plants, which reoxidize the water for the fish. The produce is then sold to supermarkets and restaurants, and the tilapia sold to At Sara’s Table in Duluth.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited the farm for almost an hour Thursday morning to tour the facility and see the cycle in motion.

“As we look at more and more people in this world and less land, we have to be smarter and smarter about how we use that land and how we use our water,” Klobuchar said. “They literally are self-

sustaining, and we need to see more of that across the country.”

Mageau says Victus Farm spends around $9,000 each month, and gets back about $5,000 in sales. The difference is covered by research grants.

Plans to grow the concept of Victus Farm are in the works, according to Mageau. He wants to draw up a more sustainable and cost-effective model and have facilities built around the state.

The city has suggested building a larger facility next to the existing site, in which case Victus Farm would ship food to communities across Minnesota.

“We’re kind of moving forward on both fronts,” Mageau said. “We’ll see which one gets the legs to survive.”

Victus Farm also has received grants to experiment with growing different types of plants, including peppers, cucumbers and grapes.

“We plan to try a lot of things,” Mageau said. “It’s just finding species that have good market value and perform really well in this kind of system.”

That system is still a work in progress, Mageau says. On occasion, researchers have had to introduce ladybugs to the greenhouse to fend of aphids — a small insect known for wreaking havoc on gardens. Mageau also said the taste of the farm’s lettuce isn’t consistent, an issue he thanked stores and restaurants for understanding.

“I think we’re almost there,” he said. “I think we’ve got most of the bugs worked out.”