Hobart Grant Winner Creates a "Hugelkultur" System

The Hobart Center for Foodservice Sustainability recently announced its annual $5,000 grant for individuals or organization with the best executed foodservice or grocery sustainability project of the year is now open to applicants.

The 2013 HCFS grant recipient, Duluth Grill in Duluth, Minnesota, is a family-owned restaurant with a fever pitch commitment to sustainability. Its grant-winning initiatives include reducing energy and water use, reducing wastewater and solid waste, and implementing farm-to-fork programs. Duluth Grill’s sustainability program is threaded into nearly every aspect of the operation.

The restaurant used the HCFS $5,000 grant money, plus monies raised in its own Kickstarter campaign, to build a permaculture orchard and garden in its back parking lot, explains Tom Hanson, who owns Duluth Grill with his wife, Jaima. The center of the project, built over the summer, is a 140-foot long, 12-foot wide, 6-foot high berm, piled up with giant logs and covered with 100 yards of dirt. The decomposing logs nourish and water the soil in this self-sustaining “hugelkultur” system, which also absorbs much of the runoff water that flowed into a nearby creek. Hugelkultur, a German term meaning hill culture, describes self-tilling raised garden beds.

The restaurant is also looking to its hugelkultur system to help create year-round heat for its orchard. To that end, the log pile is studded with bluestone boulders that absorb heat throughout the day. The sun shining on the boulders, along with the decomposing logs, heats the whole pile about 10 degrees above ambient ground temperature, says Hanson.

The dream is to create a southern-style Zone Five plant hardiness zone (the restaurant is in a Zone Four due to its proximity to Lake Superior, while much of Minnesota is a Zone Three) to extend the growing season and keep the fruit trees alive year-round, and maybe even grow peaches and pawpaws. Currently, the orchard and garden include apple, pear, plum, cherry, and apricot trees and hardy kiwi, which grows on a vine, and rhubarb.

Duluth Grill is also putting in a rain collection system that will be used to irrigate its gardens.

Previously, the restaurant replaced older equipment with Energy Star-certified models, reducing utility costs by 51.6 percent. Additional sustainable measures include replacing incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs, ongoing recycling and composting programs, and the use of compostable carryout containers and refillable ketchup bottles.

Duluth Grill also transformed its menu, from pre-made franchise fare to one that is entirely built from scratch with fresh, organic, and local ingredients. Full-time farm manager Francois Medion runs its urban farming operation. The restaurant also sources 32 percent of its food from local suppliers.

“This is a lifetime project,” says Hanson, referring to the restaurant’s sustainability program. “Our 28-year-old son Louis is becoming a partner in our business, and it will be up to him to carry on this tradition.”

By Joann Whitcher

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