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Sunday, October 6, 2013

He was Banker But Now Raises Fish and Grow Plants in her Apartment in New York

You can recycle , drive a small car and try to eat organic foods. But you can also go further and raise fish with eco-sustainable technology and have a garden with natural fertilization and own an apartment in a city like New York. Christopher Toole and Anya Pozdeeva, two former bankers who founded the Big Apple Securities Company aquaponic and Education (SAVE, for its acronym in English), have a story to tell. "We call it 'beyond organic,'" said Pozdeeva, 39. The technique aquaponics is a sustainable food production, which combines fish farming (aquaculture)
with the cultivation of plants in water (hydroponics). It is a perfect system, ecological miniature that can produce healthy food in a small apartment with simple equipment, they said. "We built our system from garbage cans," said Pozdeeva, a thin woman who emigrated from the Siberian region of Russia 20 years ago and still speaks English with a slight accent. If raising fish in an apartment in New York seems unlikely, Toole and Pozdeeva seem even more improbable as urban ecological pioneers.

Until recently were bankers who met working long hours among the skyscrapers of Manhattan, far from bleak Bronx where they currently live. But after the financial meltdown of 2008 brought down the banking sector, Toole, vice president of Sovereign Bank, discovered he had a serious eye problem, which he said was caused by stress. Both he and Pozdeeva were very disappointed with their careers. "They know how to squeeze every last drop from you and then throw you away," said Pozdeeva. "We wanted to keep our feet on the ground," said Toole, 47, gray beard and hat pigskin. Instead, put your feet in the water.

Toole knew a little about fish by his childhood summers with his father scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts (northeast), a famous centre for research in marine biology in the Cape Cod area aquaponics, he estimated, would allow him to join the sustainable food production with what he hopes is a business model also sustainable. A risky idea? Yes "But understanding risk is something they teach you a lot in the banking sector," he said.
Each week Toole and Pozdeeva aquaponics technique taught about 80 children at the headquarters of SAVE in a community center in the South Bronx, one of the more socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the United States.

During one recent class, the couple engaged in what young people do; everything from cleaning fish tanks to planting mint, cabbage and other vegetables. Children, despite being more familiar with the concrete jungle of the Bronx, were soon involved. "I have fear that the fishes will come and bite me" he said, laughing at a little girl as she put her hand on the top of a barrel with large tilapia.

When two kids gardening set aside to start a fight with mud, Pozdeeva calmly intervened."The earth is precious," he said. The boys went back to gardening. Toole said there are several types of fish farming in their farms, but tilapias are best. They require 19-38 liters of water and in nine months can be eaten. They can be totally vegetarian and seem to like duckweed, a plant of green beans and Pozdeeva Toole collected from ponds in Van Cortland Park in the Bronx. "It's illegal, but on the other hand these plants are choking ponds, so you could argue that we are doing them a favor," said Toole on his expeditions to collect this type of plant.

In addition to teaching, Toole and Pozdeeva sell small fingerlings at 5 dollars apiece through its website, Facebook and other websites. Just a year ago they created SAVE, but Toole and Pozdeeva have many more fish to fry. Toole plans partnerships with chefs, other urban fish breeders, and consultancy work for newcomers. But after fleeing global banking, it does not seem like working for anyone, or "selling our soul" as he says. It seems unlikely to happen.

Pozdeeva has discovered that fungi, raised on a simple piece of cardboard, thrive in the same conditions of warmth, darkness and humidity that favor the breeding of tilapia. And Toole is excited to diversify into the production of honey. "Right now I have 10,000 bees in our living room," he said. "So not only am I sleeping with fish, but with bees."
In fact, the only thing that could hinder the green revolution, it seems, are particularly strict rules of New York in connection with pets in apartment buildings. "Basically, we need to be somewhat discreet," said Pozdeeva on domestic colonies of fish. "But that's the beauty of the fish."


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