SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — 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…