Grow Into Spring: Local, Organic, Aquaponic Farming

Grow Into Spring: A Spicy Take On Life
March 1, 2016
Art Fair: Downtown Bryan
March 1, 2016

By Katie Canales

aqua 4The vegetables planted in the greenhouses at AG Farms are green and growing, with their roots stretching downward through their troughs, not toward the moist soil, but toward the nutrient-filled pool of water that feeds them.

AG Farms practices aquaponics farming, which is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. In other words, they utilize a close-loop water circulatory system to sustain and develop their produce.

And the driving force behind the vegetables’ growth? Fish.

“What really benefits the plants is typically in dirt, they have to use a lot of energy, sending out their tap root, pushing through the soil looking for nutrients, and you’ll get a lot of roots down there and not as much growth up front,” says Kenny Closs, of AG Farms.

“With this method, it’s less work for the plant to find those nutrients, and it’s able to grow up top a lot quicker and more efficiently.”

Kenny, a Texas A&M University graduate, studied Agriculture Economics and Rural Entrepreneurship while a student and took interest in AG Farms through his mentor Stanley Wells and through Stanley’s daughter-in-law Sharon Wells, who now runs the farm.

The farm operates with four greenhouses, one “fishhouse,” and a commercial kitchen. The produce is grown within three of the greenhouses; the fourth house is used for germination. Long troughs of water are placed in two of the greenhouses, where lettuce, onions, Swiss chard, kale, and other herbs grow.

Within the fishhouse are pools of water housing Goldfish and Bluegill Sunfish, which provide the plants with food. The nutrients are then transported through the water to the plants in their troughs.

Eventually, AG Farms plans to switch out the Goldfish and Bluegill Sunfish for Tilapia to start a hatchery process. The Tilapia will serve a dual purpose by feeding the plants and being put on the market.

aqua 2Kenny explains how beneficial the recyclability of aquaponics is: the reciprocal relationship between the plants and the fish; the algae, which grows being used as fish food; and the future dual purpose use of Tilapia. Water conservation is one of the biggest components.

“Because we’re using a recirculating system, up front it looks like a lot of water, but because we’re reusing it, we use a lot less water than you would use working in the soils,” says Kenny.

Even the water they use is sourced from the rainwater collection they have on location.

AG Farms has a presence at the Brazos Valley Farmer’s Market about every other week, but their home delivery system is the primary way the produce is distributed to the public.

“Our goal is to get the best possible produce out to people in Bryan/College Station,” says Sharon.

Sharon explains how, at one point, they attempted to coordinate with H-E-B and Chipotle, but were turned off when they realized their produce wouldn’t stay local and instead would need to be shipped to Dallas. Their mission is to keep their produce fresh and local. They also are certified organic.

“Everything was harvested this morning, and it’s delivered this afternoon,” says Sharon.

The farm prepares three different sizes of home delivery arrangements, with lettuce, onions, broccoli, Swiss chard, and more. Prices range from $15-$35. For the most part, the baskets are delivered straight to the doorsteps of customers; however, they’re looking into establishing delivery/pickup points at local businesses in town, such as The Village Cafe.

aqua 3The future of AG Farms will be Earth Galley Farm, as the farm revamps and rebrands with two new partners, Kenny and Spencer Temple, and a mission for more community involvement. By utilizing an unused acre of land behind the greenhouses, Earth Galley Farm will be able to host more community projects.

“We’d like to do a raised, pick-your-own community garden field,” says Kenny. “We’d like to do a lot of community stuff, so we’re thinking dinners, you know, getting local chefs out here to prepare some food and teach people about organics.”

Kenny explains how education would also play a big part in their interaction with the community.

“We’ve got a lot of space to kind of be with the community and kind of show the importance of food and where it comes from.”

For more information about aquaponics, the produce, or Earth Galley Farm, visit www.earthgalleyfarms.com.