Duluth Grill to add an urban orchardThe plan is that when Tom Hanson, owner of Duluth Grill, needs fresh plums for a pie, he can simply walk out to the restaurant parking lot and pick them.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
The plan is that when Tom Hanson, owner of Duluth Grill, needs fresh plums for a pie, he can simply walk out to the restaurant parking lot and pick them.
That’s because plum trees will be part of a new parking lot orchard at the restaurant at 118 S. 27th Avenue W. that will provide hundreds of pounds of fresh produce each year but also act as a buffer for rainwater that runs off the parking lot and into nearby Miller Creek.
The planned urban orchard will be 140 feet long, 12 feet wide and, in addition to plum trees, will include grape vines, black-cap raspberries, lingonberries, kiwi, apricots, grapes, choke cherries and much more.
The plan also calls for a nearby rain garden in the restaurant’s back parking lot that will filter more than 1 million gallons of rainwater annually that now runs off the restaurant roof and parking lot — as well as off the nearby Motel 6 and Mielke Electric building — directly into Miller Creek.
The project will add an island of trees, shade, flowers, birds and butterflies in what for decades has been a sea of blacktop in Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. The added green space will help cool and clean water entering the creek right before it pours into the Duluth harbor and, eventually, Lake Superior.
It’s by far the most intensive effort yet to “green” the restaurant, but definitely not the first.
Duluth Grill has been a pioneer in the effort to reduce waste, recycle, compost and reduce energy usage as well as reduce its carbon emissions footprint, the stuff blamed for global warming. And the restaurant has been using organic, locally produced foods for years, including stuff from the gardens already scattered around the building and at Hanson’s home nearby.
The restaurant even has bee hives on the roof to make its own honey.
“We’re already producing a year’s worth of basil and a year’s worth of rhubarb, so we’re producing what we use. … We’re at about half a year’s worth of apples. And we keep adding more things,” Hanson said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get to 100 percent; that’s not really the goal. But the goal is to supply as much of our own food, or at least have it locally supplied, as possible.”
The orchard and rain garden effort, which will get underway later this summer, is expected to cost more than $20,000. But the project already has a head start. The restaurant won a $5,000 grant from the Hobart Center for Food Service Sustainability, topping more than 20 other projects nationally, and another $8,000 grant from the South St. Louis Soil and Water Conservation District.
“We already have a Miller Creek restoration project going through the Clean Water Land and Legacy Fund, and part of that is working with a business to develop best management practices for runoff near the stream,” said Kate Kubiak, conservation specialist for the district. “They already have so much going on at the restaurant in terms of sustainability, and they had a plan ready for this project, so this was an easy choice. And the creek goes right behind their restaurant, so there’s a direct impact and direct benefit. It’s going to have high visibility. A lot of people are going to see what’s going on.”
To raise the rest of the money, Duluth Grill has embarked on an unusual effort to raise $10,000 in donations from customers and other Northlanders who see the broader community benefits in what the owners are trying to do. The fundraising effort is being channeled through the Web-based Kickstarter system. If the $10,000 mark isn’t reached, no one who has pledged has to pay.
As of Friday afternoon the project had 20 people pledging $955, with 28 days to go.
“It’s a little bit different, trying to get people to give us money for a project. But the response has been very positive,” Hanson said. “To be honest, there is no way to make this pay on a traditional profit-and-loss sheet. … These kinds of projects never pay for themselves. But people see what we’re trying to do and want to be part of it.”
Francois Medion, the restaurant’s farm manager, said the project will take about three days to build, probably in late July or early August. It will take detailed planning and preparation to rip up the blacktop and install the orchard without disrupting peak summer traffic, he noted. Medion expects the parking lot orchard will be an educational tool by planting varieties not normally found in the Northland, such as Siberian Kiwi.
“People won’t see these varieties anywhere else around here,” he said. “That’s good not just for teaching what can be planted here, but also give the restaurant some produce that will be unique, that people can’t get anywhere else.”
Hanson said he has more plans after the parking lot orchard is built. He wants to build a green roof on the restaurant, where vegetables would be grown. And he’s thinking about redoing the front parking lot with a “pervious” surface that rain can soak through rather than run off into the creek.
“I’ve pretty much turned my yard at home into a farm now,” Hanson said, noting he’s even added a fish tank to grow pacu, a warm-water fish, for the restaurant’s menu.
“This whole effort takes a lot of work. It’s a learning experience,” he said. “But the restaurant business can really burn people out. … This has made it fun for me to come into work every day.”