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By Hannele Rubin

earthgallery2When Spencer Temple enters his small Earth Galley Farm store to take a break from harvesting produce, he is often dripping with sweat.

Running a small farm is hot and dirty work. But Temple loves the work—and the dirt and even the sweat—because he feels he’s making the world a better place, one head of lettuce at a time.

Earth Galley subscribes to sustainable farming principles, using no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers or herbicides or GMOs, Temple says, on the premise that what goes into your food goes into you. At Earth Galley, he says, even the fish that fertilize the plants in the aquaponics system eat organic feed.

“We don’t just care about the end product,” he says. “We think about what goes into what people eat.”

Temple and his two business partners, Sharon Wells and Kenneth Closs, grow a variety of produce on their 2.25-acre farm for about 45 regular customers each week.

The farm holds three large greenhouse-like structures: one contains raised beds and two hold aquaponics systems.

Customers sign up online for a variety of produce, eggs, and meat combinations; they can order a one-time home delivery for a flat fee of $5 or order a month’s worth of food in advance for a one-time delivery fee of $5.

Customers who order online also have the option of picking up their orders at the farm Thursdays and Fridays, at the Village Café, or at the Westminster Presbyterian Church (all in Bryan). [Full disclosure: I’m a regular Earth Galley customer.]

Earth Galley aims to be “100 percent sustainable,” Temple says, following the principles of “reuse, reduce, recycle,” so farming becomes a virtuous circle of bounty.

Temple’s route to farming in general and aquaponics in particular took him from Spring, where he grew up, to Texas A&M University. He majored in Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M, where he met and initially bonded with Closs over their advanced ages. Temple is 25; Closs, 33, spent 10 years in the U.S. Navy before attending Texas A&M. A mutual interest in sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurship grew the friendship.

The men graduated in December 2015, but continued to work as teaching assistants through May 2016. In the meantime, they had begun looking for a farm in New Braunfels, thinking the market there was more open for the kind of holistic operation they had in mind.

Then Closs learned about an aquaponics operation built by the Wells family in Bryan. Temple and Closs decided to buy it in partnership with Sharon Wells, who had been managing the operation.

In February, while still wrapping up their Texas A&M obligations, Temple and Closs began learning to farm. They also began building partnerships with farms in a 100-mile radius whose products often are listed on Earth Galley’s website order page or included in weekly baskets.“It’s been a busy time,” Temple says, smiling at the understatement. He and his partners feel B/CS has a market for consciously grown, natural, sustainable, local food. This fall, Earth Galley will distribute varieties of fall vegetables you may not see in your neighborhood supermarket, including brightly colored jester squash and yellow-orange beets.

It’s important to try “new tastes, new flavors, new colors, things you’ve never tried before,” Temple says. “Break away from the mundane and the repetitive!”

Earth Galley also grows lettuce year-round because “it grows best [in the aquaponics system] and is in high demand,” he says. Looking around the greenhouse, Temple counts seven salad varieties, including Red Rosie, Butterhead, Buttercrunch, Breen, and Muir.

The partners run regular farm tours; if you go for a visit or just to shop at the farm store, you might stop into the seed-starter shed to say hello to an oversized black and yellow garden spider. Temple has named her Miss Lady; she hangs in a large, intricate web anchored to stacked bags of coconut coir, which is mixed with vermiculite to start the seeds.

Eventually, the partners hope to sell tilapia from the aquaponics system.“It’s hard to be a farmer and a businessperson at the same time because they’re both so intensive,” he says. “But we’re changing the way people view food and how it’s grown and how it’s produced,” he adds. “And that’s a blast.”