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Stonington - A Stonington High School graduate studying in France is seeking $14,000 in funding to develop an innovative way to raise fish and produce in shipping containers that she said could feed people in locations around the world while decreasing pollution and demand for water.
Kelsey Julius, a 2008 Stonington High graduate who is pursuing a master's degree in sustainable development at HEC Paris, a business school, has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to help fund a start-up company she calls Fish Your Food.
Julius, 23, has developed what she calls the "first sustainable aquaponics farm using an upcycled shipping container with a greenhouse on top."
On the project website, Julius explains that aquaponics "is a farming method that mimics a natural closed-loop ecosystem, harnessing the power of fish waste (rather than harmful chemical fertilizers) to feed and grow plants!"
It works by pumping effluent-rich water from the fish tank into grow beds, where bacteria convert the ammonia waste into nutrients used by the plants. The plants filter the water, which drains back into the fish tank. One of the benefits is that aquaponics uses 90 percent less water than traditional agriculture. It also reduces agricultural pollution and takes pressure off fish stocks in the wild while helping meet an ever-increasing worldwide demand for food, Julius said.
"Feeding the world sustainably is a huge goal and that's why we need as many people on board as possible to make this first aquaponics farm happen," said Julius on the project website. "Even if you can't contribute financially you can still help us spread the word by sharing this campaign with your friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances or maybe even a rich aunt or two!"
The crowdfunding campaign ends Monday. As of Friday evening, Julius had raised $5,600. Depending on how much they pledge, donors receive gifts ranging from reusable grocery bags, a tour of the aquaponics farm in person or via Skype and a chance to name fish, to attending a fish fry or aquaponics class and getting fresh produce from the project.
In answers to emailed questions, Julius said that after graduating from Northeastern University, she became interested in aquaponics while working for a California-based start-up firm that had created a countertop aquaponics kit.
"Before I left the company I had this feeling that I wanted to scale-up what they just scaled down to provide some big solution to the large problems our food system is currently confronting," she said.
She said aquaponics offers the freedom "to grow almost anything almost anywhere so my ideas for expansion are endless." Aquaponics has existed for a few decades but has only recently become a commercially viable option, she said. She added there has been a recent boom in U.S. aquaponics farms.
After launching the pilot project at her school, she said she hopes to seek investors for an even larger commercial-scale farm in Nantes, France, and then expand to other urban areas "to bring food production closer to consumers."
Details about the project, including a video and donation levels ranging from $5 to $1,000, are available at www.indiegogo.com/projects/fish-your-food.