Apr 28, 2012

AFP: New Yorkers fish farms bring hope to socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhoods

Christopher Toole and Anya Pozdeeva, two former New York bankers who founded the Society for Aquaponic Values and Education (SAVE), are there to help.
"We call it 'beyond organic,'" Pozdeeva, 39, said.
Aquaponics is a technique with ancient roots for breeding tank fish, recycling their effluent-filled water to fertilize vegetation, then allowing this naturally cleaned water to drip back into the tank below.
It's a perfect, miniature eco system that will let you grow healthy food right in a cramped apartment with almost no specialist equipment.
"We built our system just from trash cans," said Pozdeeva, a slender woman who emigrated from Russia's Siberian region 20 years ago and still speaks English with a gentle accent.
If growing fish to eat in your New York apartment sounds unlikely, then Toole and Pozdeeva are even unlikelier urban eco pioneers.
Just a short time ago they were bankers working crazy hours among the skyscrapers of Manhattan, a far cry from the gritty Bronx where they are based today.
After the 2008 financial crash floored the banking industry, Toole, a vice president at Sovereign Bank, discovered he had a serious eye problem, which he says was stress-related.
And both of them were severely disenchanted with their careers.
"They know how to squeeze every drop out of you and then throw you away," Pozdeeva said.
"We wanted two feet on the ground," said Toole, 47, and striking-looking with a bushy gray beard and pork pie hat.
Instead, he put two feet in the water.
Toole knew a little about fish from childhood summers with his scientist father out at Woods Hole in Massachusetts, a famed marine biology research center in the Cape Cod area. Aquaponics, he reckoned, would let him marry sustainable food production with what he hopes will be an equally sustainable business model.
Risky? Yes.
"But understanding risks is something they teach you a lot about in banking," he said.
Each week Toole and Pozdeeva teach aquaponics to about 80 children at SAVE's base at a community center in the south Bronx, one of the most socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in the United States.
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