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A Backyard Full of Fish and Plants: Edible Garden Tour, 2013

A Backyard Full of Fish and Plants: Edible Garden Tour, 2013
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  • A Backyard Full of Fish and Plants: Edible Garden Tour, 2013

    Post #1 - July 28th, 2013, 8:24 am
    Post #1 - July 28th, 2013, 8:24 am Post #1 - July 28th, 2013, 8:24 am
    A Backyard Full of Fish and Plants: Edible Garden Tour, 2013

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    Yesterday was the second annual Edible Garden Tour sponsored by The Sugar Beet Co-op. As part of this tour around the Village, we visited a number of fascinating examples of urban farming, and the first place we stopped on this year’s tour was a real estate office.

    Frank DiFebo owns and operates Classic Properties, a real estate brokerage at 1009-11 Madison. From outside on Madison street, it looks like a regular office, which is just what it is; in back, DiFebo has tanks of fish that feed plants that feed fish that ultimately feed DiFebo.

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    When the real estate market crashed in 2008, DiFebo had some time on his hands, so he started tinkering with aquaponics, a closed loop system of agriculture that interconnects aquaculture (raising fish) with hydroponics (raising plants with basically just water).

    Tilapia are incredibly efficient livestock – they produce one-half pound of protein for every pound of feed eaten. Compare that to beef cattle that need about 58 pounds of feed to produce a pound of meat. The tilapia eat water hyacinths that are, in this closed loop system, fed with nutrient-rich water from the tilapia tank. The fish also eat the algae off the sides of the tank, and DiFebo supplements this diet with pelletized fish food (so the system isn’t completely “closed,” but that’s the goal).

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    “Tilapia are African chichlids, from the Nile,” DiFebo explained. “You know the story of the multiplying of the fish and loaves? Those fish were tilapia.”

    I have not confirmed this story with Biblical scholars, but until told otherwise, it’s too good not to believe. And there’s no doubt: tilapia are very good at increasing in size.

    The water from the tilapia is also sprinkled over plants, like basil and watercress, that DiFebo eats.

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    It’s a rather remarkable system that “was built,” DiFebo told us, “based on my own goofy engineering. I really don’t know what I’m doing.”

    Still, it seems to work quite well: the plants, fish and DiFebo all appeared healthy.

    Inside his office, DiFebo keeps a tank of fry that are growing to a size where they can be transferred to the larger tanks. Tilapia are vegetarian, so young fish are in no danger of being eaten by bigger fish. Of course, many of these fish will undoubtedly be eaten by DiFebo, who has been running his aquaponics operation for two years now. “At the end of last year,” he said, “we had some fish tacos. They were pretty good.”

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    I asked DiFebo if he had ever calculated how much it actually cost to produce, say, a pound of fish and vegetables. He hadn’t done the calculation because the actual cost doesn’t really seem to matter. Keeping a backyard aquaponics system is just a cool thing to do, and like most hobbies, the return on investment is hardly relevant (kind of like LTHForum.com).
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”

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