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From fish tank to food table

alum Kelsey Julius

“Busi­nesses are totally capable of making money and doing good,” says Kelsey Julius, AMD/​SSH’12.

Her new social busi­ness ven­ture is a case in point, a win-​​win for the envi­ron­ment and the entrepreneur.

Named Fish Your Food, the small-​​scale enter­prise aims to har­ness the power of a new urban farming tech­nique called aquaponics to grow and market organic produce.

On Dec. 1, Julius launched a month­long Indiegogo cam­paign to raise $14,000 in sup­port of the busi­ness, which aligns with Northeastern’s focus on solving global chal­lenges in health and sus­tain­ability. The money will be used to buy equip­ment to build a 160-​​square-​​foot aquaponics farm, including a fish tank, grow bed, and upcy­cled ship­ping container.

The farm will be located in Paris on the campus of the HEC School of Man­age­ment, where Julius is studying for her master’s of sci­ence in sus­tain­able development.

Aquaponics—a port­man­teau of aqua­cul­ture and hydroponics—thrives on the sym­bi­otic rela­tion­ship between plants and fish. In this closed-​​loop ecosystem, fish waste­water is fun­neled from a fish tank to a grow bed, where it’s broken down by bac­teria to pro­vide nutri­ents for the plants. The plants, in turn, purify the waste­water and then filter it back into the envi­ron­ment in which the fish live.

Unlike con­ven­tional farming methods, aquaponics does not pol­lute the envi­ron­ment, deplete the fresh water supply, nor upset the bal­ance of the marine ecosystem.

“Aquaponics allows you to grow almost any­thing almost any­where,” says Julius. “It truly pro­vides a real solu­tion to prob­lems in the food industry.

“People have been doing this in their own back­yards for a long time,” she says, “but only recently has it become a com­mer­cially viable operation.”

The bud­ding entrepreneur’s idea to design a small-​​scale aquaponics farm took shape last year, when she worked for a California-​​based startup that sells consumer-​​based aquaponics kits. And her senior cap­stone project—a stop motion doc­u­men­tary on the effi­cacy of social business—piqued her interest in doing well by doing good.

“Why make money by cre­ating more prob­lems when you could be using your skills to resolve them?” asks Julius, who grad­u­ated from North­eastern with a com­bined degree in cinema studies and lan­guages, lit­er­a­tures, and cul­tures.

If her pilot project goes well, Julius plans on building a com­mer­cial farm in Nantes, a city in West France with more than 7,000 acres of green space. She was inspired by her visit to a hydro­ponics tomato farm in Ice­land in which the pro­pri­etors teach their cus­tomers how to grow the juicy fruit and sell pints of tomato soup.

“I want to help get people more involved in agri­cul­ture and teach them where their food comes from,” says Julius. “It could bol­ster my busi­ness and interest people in caring about food and culture.”

– By Jason Kornwitz

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