Food road trip features Duluth restaurantLake Avenue Cafe in Canal Park is working toward a seemingly impossible task: serving fresh, local food year-round in the inhospitable climate of Duluth.
By: Lareesa Sandretsky, Forum News Service
DULUTH — Lake Avenue Cafe in Canal Park is working toward a seemingly impossible task: serving fresh, local food year-round in the inhospitable climate of Duluth.
They’ve recently partnered with Victus Farms to help accomplish that goal. The hydroponic facility in Silver Bay grows produce and fish year-round, allowing Lake Avenue Cafe the luxury of fresh lettuce in the middle of northern Minnesota winters. Executive chef Tony Baran said local produce keeps their customers happy and their dishes fresh.
“Food doesn’t like long trips on trains and planes and boats,” Baran said.
The relationship between the cafe and the farm will be highlighted in an upcoming Twin Cities Public Television production, “Farm Fresh Road Trip.” The TPT crew was filming at Lake Avenue Cafe on Tuesday.
“It’s going to be an eye-opener for the audience that you can get fresh food year-round in Duluth,” said Mary Lahammer, host and producer for TPT.
Lahammer is enthusiastic about local food, a passion that started during her childhood on a farm. TPT has aired a number of shows focusing on local food, like “Farmers & Chefs of Minnesota” and “Farm to School: Growing our Future.”
“I’ve been working on the local food scene for about a decade,” Lahammer said. “We’ve watched the movement really grow and change.”
Part of that growth has been an expansion of local food from the metro areas to greater Minnesota. “Farm Fresh Road Trip” is intended to highlight that progress.
“We’re traveling the state … and showing that the local food movement isn’t just an urban phenomenon,” Lahammer said.
Along with Duluth, they’ll feature restaurants in Hutchinson and St. Peter, Minn., that focus on local food.
The Minnesota Farmer’s Union is partnering with TPT to produce the show. Bruce Miller, the state membership and outreach director for the union, said local food isn’t a trend but a return to our roots.
“In many ways, this is going back to normal,” he said. “It’s fresh; it’s real; it hasn’t traveled thousands of miles.”
Using local food is an easy feat in places like southern California, but the Minnesota climate presents some challenges. Miller said recent innovations are making fresh food possible even here. Victus Farms is the perfect example. The facility in Silver Bay officially opened last summer and uses an innovative, closed-loop system to produce food.
Tilapia are raised in large tanks and the waste they produce fertilizes plants growing in another set of tanks. The plants filter and add oxygen to the water in which the fish live. Currently, just lettuce, basil and algae are being produced, but the farm hopes to add tomatoes soon.
“Victus begins to challenge the whole idea of what a farm is,” Miller said.
Lake Avenue Café patrons can taste Victus lettuce and herbs now, and Baran said they will add tilapia to the menu in September.
It’s a business model that grew from a friendship between Lake Avenue partner Derek Snyder and Victus employee Baylor Radtke. Lahammer said that is a key component of farm-to-table establishments and something they hope to highlight in their show.
“They know each other. The guy who grew the food is handing it to the chef,” she said. “It’s just amazing to think about it.”
Baran will appear at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 25 with Minnesota Cooks, an extension of the Minnesota Farmer’s Union. “Farm Fresh Road Trip” will be broadcast this fall. TPT productions can be viewed on Channel 8.4 in the Duluth area or at tpt.org.