The Faces of Entrepreneurship: Brian Tanguay, Tangy Produce
Issue:Winter 2015 : Articles
West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle is a little greener — both figuratively and literally — thanks to Brian Tanguay. The entrepreneur and owner of Tangy Produce has parlayed his passion for gardening into a full-time business, providing fresh, locally grown produce to dinner plates across the region.
And he’s doing it in an eco-friendly manner, without pesticides or herbicides, using a method called aquaponics, which requires less water, less space and is less labor intensive than traditional farming. Aquaponics is a combination of hydroponics: the growing of plants without soil, and aquaculture, or fish farming. Here’s how the process works: Fish (in this case white and red niles and blue tilapia) are raised and fed in a tank of water. As they breathe and excrete waste, ammonia is generated. This ammonia is converted to nitrates by beneficial bacteria. Worms consume excess solids from the fish waste and contribute micronutrients via their castings. That water is recirculated across plant roots, which absorb the nutrient-rich water and act as biofilters for the fish. The filtered water is recirculated to the fish tank and the process begins again. The end result: organically grown produce and organically raised fish.
“In 2010, after several years of raised-bed gardening in my backyard with increased effectiveness, I searched the phrase ‘growing vegetables underwater,’ which led me to aquaponics,” Tanguay said. “Once I began reading about AP, I saw the value in this symbiotic, all-natural method of producing vegetables and fish. I began more in-depth study and then started attending classes.” Tanguay resigned his job as an engineering and reliability manager in 2013 to devote full time to his aquaponics operation. He constructed his first aquaponics system in April 2013 in his basement. By July of that year, he was selling produce. Today, his Shepherdstown company grows several varieties of lettuce, herbs and leafy greens such as kale and collard greens in a 2,300-square-foot commercial greenhouse. Consumers can harvest their own greens on-site, purchase them on Saturdays at the nearby Charles Town Farmers market or even pick their own at the Black Dog Coffee Company in Shenandoah Junction, where Tanguay has installed a po table aquaponics system.
He also sells his produce to a couple of local restaurants and this winter launched a community supported agriculture (CSA) initiative, in which the company delivers fresh produce to 32 customers who paid for their shares in advance.
The CSA has helped finance a wood-fired heating system so produce can be grown throughout the winter. Additional upgrades and expansion are in the works.
“Our intermediate range goals ... include the expansion/completion of our current greenhouse and the addition oftwo to three more greenhouses,” Tanguay said. “We also want to expand our distribution to restaurants and begin growing more specialized products.”
Long range, Tanguay hopes to develop a fish breeding program, raising different breeds of fish, pairing warm water fish with warm weather crops, and cold water fish with cool weather crops.
Like many entrepreneurs, Tanguay attributes his success, in part, to a sense of vision, the ability to see the end result before it becomes a reality. He also said a strong work ethic, perseverance, good people skills and the ability to recognize and learn from his mistakes have paid dividends. Of course, that doesn’t mean entrepreneurship is easy.
“Because I started a business with zero experience or prior knowledge, it has been challenging at every turn and requires all of my innate and learned abilities to learn, grow and develop momentum,” Tanguay said.
He also credits his fiancée, Colleen Curran, with encouraging him to pursue his dream. “She has been at my side every step of the way, and has learned much about aquaponics in general and Tangy Produce specifically,” Tanguay said. “She is a regular at the farmer’s market and is a favorite of our customers. Colleen is the breadwinner in our home and cheerfully supports me financially as I pursue my business.”
For Tanguay, the challenges of entrepreneurship pale in comparison to the rewards of pursing a passion and seeing his small business grow and prosper.
“I like the independence and autonomy that I have from being an entrepreneur,” Tanguay said. “I like seeing the fruits of my labor, study, risk and financial investment being transformed into a viable, healthy, positive and valued business.
“My personal rewards include freedom and satisfaction: freedom to explore, freedom to take as much or as little risk as I care to, freedom to go in whatever direction makes sense to me; the satisfaction of knowing that my efforts are resulting in a solid — albeit modest — contribution to the local food scene; the satisfaction of knowing that I can build something from nothing; the satisfaction of knowing that my produce is impacting people’s lives in the area for the better; the satisfaction of knowing that there is a good chance my efforts will leave a lasting legacy for my children, should they desire to pursue it for themselves.”