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Harvest Nation a finalist for Minnesota Cup award

Ag start-up plans facility in former Soudan physics lab

Stephanie Ukkola
Posted 8/20/20

TOWER– A chance meeting between Dani Pieratos and a Soudan Underground Mine State Park official last winter at a local food tourism meeting may turn into a double windfall for Harvest Nation. …

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Harvest Nation a finalist for Minnesota Cup award

Ag start-up plans facility in former Soudan physics lab


TOWER– A chance meeting between Dani Pieratos and a Soudan Underground Mine State Park official last winter at a local food tourism meeting may turn into a double windfall for Harvest Nation. That meeting sparked an innovative plan for an indoor aeroponics farm in the mine’s former high energy physics lab, which is now one of 27 finalists in the 2020 Minnesota Cup Business Competition hosted by the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
Harvest Nation’s start-up business pitch centers around indoor food production through aeroponics, with direct sales to individuals and families as what’s known as a CSA, or Community-Supported Agriculture. That model represents an alternative to mainstream food distribution.
Its first farm, planned for construction in the Soudan Underground Mine, is a three-year pilot project that will expand into a full commercial venture in four to five years if it can prove the viability of the concept. The vision for the pilot project is to provide a local source of quality, healthy food direct to area families, while showcasing the future of aeroponic technology and indoor agriculture for long-term food and nutrition security.
Aeroponics is a relatively new method of soil-less food production that uses a constant misting of plants with water and nutrients, to achieve rapid growth.
“The beauty of the underground space and why it’s so great for Harvest Nation is that it has fairly constant temperatures throughout the year and great height capacity,” said Pieratos, sales and marketing director for Harvest Nation. The aeroponics system would go up 30 feet, perfect for the underground room’s 40-foot ceilings.
“It’s cool we can continue the legacy of futuristic technologies down there,” said Pieratos.
“After a successful pilot and perfecting our business model we are looking to go full commercial in the mine by year four and at peak will be able to serve up to 1,500 to 1,600 customers.”
“I feel very confident,” Pieratos said about getting the space. “We are negotiating an MOU (memorandum of understanding).”
Last year, Harvest Nation did not advance beyond the semifinals in the Business Cup competition. The team, which includes four women, all members of the Bois Forte Band, is ecstatic that their progress last year did not go unnoticed. Pieratos said she believes this unique growing space design utilizing the underground mine helped them make it to the finals this year.
The team received technical assistance from DesignU, a self-operated entrepreneurial club organized by U of M students, to co-create modular grow bins that can accommodate a larger variety of crop sizes, which equates to more cost-effectiveness in their operation. Pieratos described the space as like an upside-down tent that can accommodate different root depths.
Division winners will take home $30,000 in seed capital, with a single finalist winning $50,000. Harvest Nation is competing in the “Impact Ventures” category against two other startups, one which trains and recruits African-American teachers in the Twin Cities, and the other which aims to help those who cannot afford their bail by crowdsourcing bail insurance amounts up to $5,000.
In a press release last spring, Harvest Nation announced that they are fundraising for a three-year pilot demonstration project starting with 100 customers, which is now expected to cost $1.89 million for the full three years. Fundraising was stalled due to available funding channels being redirected to immediate COVID-19 relief efforts.
So far, Harvest Nation has received $35,000 from the Blandin Foundation and was awarded $15,000 last year through DEED for the best Native American business in the running for the Business Cup.
The team is gearing up to reignite fundraising efforts this fall. They plan on opening a crowd-funding campaign and are also seeking private donors to reach their $1.89 million goal. They are also working with private foundations to try to raise half a million dollars, and then will move to attract private investors.
Commitments help, too. For those interested in pre-registering to be one of Harvest Nation’s first CSA customers, they have an easy online sign-up procedure. There are no fees involved. There is no obligation to commit to participating in the program at the time of actual registration for the pilot program. If you reside on the Iron Range or Bois Forte Reservation and see yourself making use of Harvest Nation’s production, fill out a pre-signup form online at
They are also working on taking EBT and SNAP to make their foods more affordable to those who need it most.
Harvest Nation sees itself as a long-term food security and nutrition solution. Once financing is secured, the farm anticipates eight months until its first full production cycle.
There is no date just yet as to when this pilot farm will start. When it’s time, Harvest Nation will launch a crowdfunding platform to pre-sell subscriptions to the farm. It anticipates it will cost about $55 per week for a subscription produce box, and customers will have the choice to pay a year’s subscription upfront or make monthly or bi-weekly payments online.
For questions or comments, please contact Denise by calling 218-421-9665, or by email at To stay up to date on the progress of the Minnesota Cup competition, follow @MinnesotaCup on Instagram and Twitter, and sign up for their newsletter by emailing


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  • chessie2go

    Has anyone checked into how this would affect the bats living in the mine, who are being impacted by white nose syndrome, and are on the threatened species list?

    How would continuous misting and harvest operations affect the bat population?

    Also, how much electricity will it take to provide the necessary lighting and misting for this kind of operation, and what kind of transportation system is in place to distribute this kind of production?

    Although the concept of local food security is important, I believe this project needs more research.

    Saturday, August 22, 2020 Report this