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Deep-winter greenhouse coming to West Duluth this fall

A deep winter greenhouse is planned for the site behind the Denfeld Victory Garden shown here in the foreground. Construction is expected to start later this summer. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)1 / 5
Mark McConnell (right)of the Gitigaan Maa'ishkam farm packages up plants for Nancy Gallagher (left) of Superior and Amanda Parker of Duluth during the Lincoln Park Farmers Market at the Harrison Community Center in Duluth Thursday evening. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)2 / 5
Kaideb Kruger, 6, of Duluth eats Napa cabbage from Fresh Starts Farm during the Lincoln Park Farmers Market at the Harrison Community Center in Duluth Thursday evening. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)3 / 5
An artist's rendering of a deep winter greenhouse. (University of Minnesota Extension graphic)4 / 5
Spring onions on sale from Fresh Starts Farm during the Lincoln Park Farmers Market at the Harrison Community Center in Duluth Thursday evening. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)5 / 5

Those kale cravings may get easier to satisfy this winter.

Seeds of Success is building a deep-winter greenhouse not far from Denfeld High School, which will extend the growing season recently started by the nearby community garden.

"The plan is to grow for a winter farmers market," said Aimee Foster, program coordinator with Seeds of Success, a Community Action Duluth venture with a focus on sustainable agriculture and transitional employment. "It also allows us to employ one to two more workers through the winter."

With a ground-breaking expected in August, the goal is to have the greenhouse ready by November — just in time to get its first growing season under the low-hanging sun.

The south-facing greenhouse will rely only on the sun to stay warm, using a "heat battery" of insulated rock to keep temperatures high enough to grow leafy greens in January. Foster says even in the depths of winter such greenhouses can reach 100 degrees without spending a cent on electricity (though there is a backup power source if temperatures get low enough outside).

The $230,000 project, which also includes a root cellar and outdoor classroom, has been years in the making, and a big help came from the Junior League of Duluth.

"The original idea came when we were talking to Seeds of Success and Zeitgeist and the city about what building capacity would help with employment, the amount of produce grown and to extend the timeline of farmers markets," Junior League member Jennifer Webb said. "Another part of the plot design is an outdoor classroom accessible to everyone in the community."

All those partners came together with fundraising and grants that has the greenhouse out to bid now.

A church once stood where the urban farm is taking root, but it was torn down after the 2012 flood that left the property unsuitable for another building. Community Action Duluth Executive Director Angie Miller said the city will continue to own the lot and the greenhouse and lease it to Seeds of Success to operate.

The greenhouse joins the Denfeld Victory Garden and Food Forest on the 45th Avenue West property, which in turn sits within view of Whole Foods Co-op — all fresh-food options that have sprouted in the past year or so, giving local residents better access to healthy options.

"It's wonderful, and it's really going to transform that portion of the neighborhood," Webb said. "It's going to make a nice gathering space around food."

A deep-winter greenhouse recently opened in Finland as part of the University of Minnesota Extension's push to build, promote and study the hot houses.

An artist's rendering of a deep winter greenhouse. (University of Minnesota Extension graphic)

"Passive-solar deep-winter greenhouses optimize production in the winter months, giving farmers the ability to produce from October through March and bridge from the beginning to the end of the traditional production season," said Greg Schweser with the extension's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.

That greenhouse, like West Duluth's, will sit vacant in the summer as temperatures get too hot to support life.

Some of the greens grown will head to the Harrison Community Center, where a winter farmers market will be held.

Unlike Thursday's sun-soaked Lincoln Park Farmers Market there — the second of the season — the winter market will most likely move inside. It will also make use of Seeds of Success' efforts to grow storage crops such as potatoes at its acre in Esko and at other urban farms.

Foster said plans for the winter market and the daily operations at the greenhouse, like thoughts of those cold days to come, are still a ways off. Summer just finally started, after all.

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative/enterprise reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

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