From the outside, the Duwell/Lundberg home in the 4000 block of Deyo Avenue in Brookfield appears to be your everyday suburban homestead.

It’s a farm.

Actually, it’s many farms all housed on about 9,500 square feet of land. Outside there’s an extensive vegetable with zucchini, beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers and an array of herbs. Three chickens roam the backyard when they’re not roosting in the hen house, which formerly served as a garden shed attached to the garage.

Inside, it continues. Down in the basement there’s a small fish farm that helps feed a small herb/vegetable garden. And next to the fish farm, in a couple of blue plastic bins on the floor, is the family’s worm farm which helps fertilize the outside garden.

And on the main floor of the home, in a back room off the kitchen, is a monarch butterfly farm doing its part to keep the threatened species alive.

It’s not so surprising that the house has evolved that way in the five years since the family bought the property. Dave Duwell grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, and he’s passed along his love of sustainability to his 13-year-old son, August, who probably could write a dissertation on fish farming if you asked him to.

“They’re breeding like crazy,” said August while conducting a tour of the fish farming operation last week.

In the main tank there are six full-size tilapia, three males and three females. As they swim and splash about there, about 25 baby tilapia spawned just recently, dart back and forth in a smaller tank. There’s another tank upstairs, which, according to August, hold “multiple hundreds” more baby tilapia.

They’re so awash in babies that they sold about 25 and have given away another 75 to others interested in aquaponics.

In the two-plus years the family of five has had the tilapia farm in the basement, they’ve harvested the adult fish for food a couple of times a year, Dave Duwell indicated it’s probably time to pull the group in the tank for a meal soon, though August is so immersed in the breeding that’s been going on right now he wants to wait. It’s the first year the fish have bred so successfully, August said.

Dave said that he set up the fish farm as a lesson in sustainability.

“I’m a big believer in it for its potential for providing urban food,” said Dave, who admitted he’s not able to maximize the potential of the system in the cramped quarters of a basement.

But the fish farm is certainly a model of efficient water use. The closed system recycles the water in the tank. A pump directs the fish waste to a tank that releases it and the water into a tub filled with fired clay gravel, which serves as the growing medium for plants like Swiss chard, rosemary and lettuce. A pump embedded in the gravel feeds that water back into the fish tank.

“It saves about 90 percent of the water by recycling it,” August said.

While not technically one of the home’s farms, its large border beds of native prairie perennial flowers is a key part of the indoor butterfly garden. One section of the perennial border includes a large clump of swamp milkweed, which draws monarch butterflies that lay eggs on the plant.

August is has an eagle eye for spotting the eggs on the plants. While they could simply leave the eggs out in the wild to mature, said Dave, “for monarchs, we cheat and bring them inside” to keep them away from predators and other hazards.

At that point the stalks are taken into the house and put in vases while the eggs turn into caterpillars and then transform later into adult butterflies. 

“We’ve had up to 20 butterflies per year,” Dave said. “Maybe 25 to 30 at the most.”