Hooked on Ponics: Unique farming yields ‘tangy’ results
Locals call him “Aqua Man,” but six years ago Brian Tanguay was an engineer working for a Fortune 500. Now, he’s manning the helm of a successful startup and growing produce under water.
In April 2013, Tanguay launched “Tangy Produce,” and made innovative farming technique aquaponics the backbone of his business.
Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics that utilizes the waste produced by farmed fish as a fertilizer for plants grown hydroponically.
The two main components of an aquaponics system are the fish tank and the grow beds with a small pump pushing the water between the two. The water passes first through the roots of the plants before draining back into the fish tank. Plants flourish as a result, by extracting the water and nutrients from the fish waste, which in turn purifies the water for the fish.
“Tilapia are one of the more hardy fish. They can withstand shocks to the system, PH and other disturbances. I’ve tried bluegills, catfish, minnows and none of them are nearly as hardy as tilapia,” Tanguay said.
Tanguay said his operation now operates exclusively with tilapia, because as a workforce they provide many benefits.
“They breed easy in captivity, they’re edible, they grow quickly to plate size in 6 to 8 months, where other fish can two years. So for those that sell fish that offers an additional stream of revenue,” he said.
Tanguay worked 20 years in a corporate environment and recalls fondly the moment he contemplated starting a new career in agriculture.
“In 2010 I started growing vegetables in my backyard in raised beds and started having some success and I found myself at work thinking all about my plants and how amazed I was that my tomato plants would be noticeably bigger than when I got home from work the day before. So then I got some chickens, and at the time I was making a lot of money, but my heart wasn’t in it,” he said.
Tanguay’s fascination in his garden, quickly landed him in front of a computer, where he Googled “growing plants under water,” and suddenly a moment from his childhood had come full circle.
“When I was ten years old someone had said something to me about growing plants under water and that just captivated my attention and I pictured corn under the ocean. That’s the only paradigms I had, growing up in New Hampshire, and the idea stayed with me for decades,” he said.
Tanguay researched and experimented, and after six years what started, as a childhood fascination has become a successful startup.
“This year we’re running, on average right now, 80 percent higher in weekly sales than last year, and we’re continuing to grow,” he said.
Tangy Produce is a staple at the Charles Town Farmers Market; they can also be found at Black Dog Coffee, or by buying direct from Tanguay’s farm in Shepherdstown.
Tanguay’s operation is looking to expand even further. Currently the three acre farm has a fenced off grazing pasture for goats, a pig pen and a chicken coop with 25 laying hens that generate 6 to 10 dozen eggs in sales each week.
“Two years ago, Tangy Produce was all about aquaponics now we’re looking to expand our food production. We’ve expanded our garden, so now we’re planting in dirt. We’re selling rabbit meat and we’re planning to sell duck in the future,” he said.
Brian’s wife Colleen said, since getting in the farming business, her outlook on food has changed.
“We’re learning how to grow and eat foods locally and, you know, just be able to produce it ourselves and be more sustainable and it’s really affected the way we prepare meals, eat dinner, lunch it’s changing our whole diet and outlook on food,” she said.
Colleen added that, she can taste the difference between farm fresh produce and what’s sold in stores.
“I can tell more about the freshness of food in terms of the quality of it and I’d say eating quality food is definitely more of a priority for us now than it was when we were growing up,” she said.
Brian agreed, and said when he was growing up eating organic wasn’t on his radar.
“We spent our lives not eating this way, so it’s not like we grew up understanding the value of how things are grown and the importance of understanding what’s in it and whether or not we should consume it,” he said.
Colleen said their daughter Hope is barely two years old, and already she’s a fan of her dad’s produce and eating organic.
“She loves eating our cherry tomatoes straight from the garden,” she said.
Brian said as his business continues to grow, he hopes to share his passion and knowledge for farming, and get interns involved.
“We’re always looking for interns on the farm and we encourage people that are interested to please get in touch,” he said.
For information on how you can intern with Tangy Produce visit their Facebook at http://bit.ly /2a3oxOi.>