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The Life of a Water Farmer: Little Rock’s Waterveg

Rob Galloway is no novice when it comes to business. Throughout his life he’s been involved with many ventures, from donut shops to transportation services, but his latest endeavor brings a new adventure entirely – water farming.

Galloway first started playing around with aquaponics in his backyard a few years ago as a hobby. After he got the basics down, he wanted to move towards a larger operation, and began working toward creating Waterveg. He said, “It was going to be a nice change to really be able to feel like I’m giving some benefit to people in terms of health.”

Galloway’s set-up mirrors the UVI method, originally developed at the University of the Virgin Islands. The process involves conventional aquaculture (raising fish or any aquatic species) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.

To combat toxicity from animal waste, water is fed to a hydroponic system where the by-products are broken down by nitrogen-fixing bacteria into nitrates and nitrites, which are utilized by the plants as nutrients. The water is then recirculated back creating the perfect synergy.

In other words, Galloway uses a system involving fish – nearly 2,000 tilapia – to fertilize the water in which he then grows plants. Currently his focus is on producing greens, including: lettuce, kale, basil, cilantro, arugula, and chard. The system works for any plant that can be grown above ground and once Galloway expands his set-up, he may also broaden his offerings.

What’s more, the system uses 90 percent less water than traditional soil farming, making the process environment friendly. He said, “We really try to make it as concise as possible and as efficient as possible.”

Galloway grows the plants in a ground-up coconut husk – which gives the grown product the appearance of a lettuce bouquet, unlike the wrapped shells you see in the grocery store. The plants stay in the Coco Core until the time comes to harvest, usually right before you’re ready to eat. This gives a whole new meaning to fresh, as Galloway added, “When you break the plant off, you can still see the milk come out of the plant.”

Taking it a step further, Galloway decided to add free delivery to his business model – meaning once you sign up you’ll start receiving living, breathing plants. He saw the farm to table trend move toward delivery nationally, and decided he wanted to be on the cutting-edge.

“There are a lot of hydroponic growers across the country, but there’s not one that is going to have a delivery model like what we’re doing, yet. … everybody likes the convenience of a delivery service,” he said.

Like any successful business, Galloway has had to remain flexible and innovative. This past summer the heat was brutal on his production, and he has plans for new chillers moving forward. “I want to optimize as much as we can,” he said, “and get everything up to the best standards.”

Galloway is currently looking into working with Whole Foods, Kroger, and some of the bigger retail stores. He’s also involved with local farmer’s market. He’s taking that next step toward connecting with his customer, as he said, “Right now we’re focusing on educating the customer, and letting them know we’re here.”

One of the biggest challenges so far has been getting the word out to people, mostly because they aren’t necessarily as familiar with an aquaponic system. In the future he hopes to have walk-through tours and have schools out to check out what he’s doing so he can get a conversation started.

 

 

 

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