Our project, “Reinventing the Family Farm” has been all about just that. Reinvention. JC and I purchased the family farm which consists of a barn, chicken shed, house and ten acres (approximately 6 ½ acres tillable). Since JC and I are just recent farm owners (2000), we were not accustomed to practicing sustainable Ag previously.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The objective of this project has been to establish a prawn or freshwater shrimp facility including a hatchery, nursery, and grow out on our family farm. We purchased the family farm for the sole purpose of aquaculture production. Our project actually started five years ago when we began our research on prawn farming.
We obtained numerous books, manuals and publications through the internet and the local community college library. We also visited other prawn farms, fish farms, and hatcheries both privately owned and University operated. We also joined organizations that would support our project and share information. We talked one farmer out of a couple of juvenile prawns so that we could observe their habits and cycles. All our research efforts have proven to be the key to our new-found success.
Numerous people have come to our call when planning our project. We obtained the consultation of a fellow fish farmer and biologist, Bill Blythe from Hybred Aquaculture, Dan Selock and Dr. Cortney Ohs from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Chris Breden and Paul Hitchens, the biologists from the Illinois Fish Farmers Co-op as well as Tony Antonacci from the Soil & Water Conservation District.
In the first year of our production, we supplied four farms with 65,000 juvenile prawns. These prawns went to local farms and some to a project in Madison, WI. This year we stepped up production to provide ten farms with 143,000 juvenile prawns. Those farms were located in Illinois and Indiana. We finished the construction of our two prawn grow out ponds just in time to stock them and they yielded 600 pounds of freshwater shrimp. For an acre of water, this was the average standard. Our frozen seafood sales have also doubled over last year’s.
We have learned so much from our project and again, we are so thankful for the opportunity to receive SARE’s approval and funding. I have quickly learned, that no matter how much planning, the cost will still be greater than you expect. The effect, of course, is that we had to provide more money for our project than we expected. We perceive that this project will be a lucrative venture for our small farm, it will just take time and planning as with any other business venture.
We feel that we have overcome obstacles with a lot of hard work, consistency, and networking. The advantages of our project far outweigh the disadvantages. We have made so many new friends and acquaintances, we are considered famous (the press is so good to us); we are looked up to by our fellow fish and shrimp farmers because of our commitments and hard work. Our sales have increased, and we are now realizing the effects of this project in the education sector, as we have successfully shipped juvenile prawn to a school in California and two other schools are e-mailing us for aquaculture information and baby prawns.
The disadvantage of our project is that we have so many people interested in what we are doing that we have to stop what we are doing to show them around. I remembering stopping in the middle of making a sandwich to give a 45 minute tour of the farm. We in turn have to hire help from time to time to help us get our work done. We have now decided to start charging for our tours and consultations. My advice to other potential prawn farmers is to do your homework, test your market, and be prepared to give it your all.
The impact that our project has had is unbelievable. We are constantly answering questions, giving tours of our facility, selling prawns, and assisting with education projects. Our project has attracted birds, deer, raccoons and other wildlife to our farm. It has also attracted numerous group and individual tours. Our plans are for our tiny farm to support itself and to produce income for two full-time employees and four to five part-time or seasonal helpers.
We have played host to the Girl Scouts of Shagbark Council, the Cisne High School Ag class and FFA, the President of the Children’s Aquarium in St Louis, the Kaskaskia College Ag Institute, and eight hundred plus attendees of our Freshwater Shrimp Harvest Festival and Field Day. We set up educational displays at the DuQuoin State Fair, the Illinois State Fish & Shrimp Festival at DuQuoin, the Sustainable Ag workshop put on by the University of Illinois, and the Heartland Aquaculture Conference for Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky and Arkansas.
We have attracted the press in a good way, and they have written story after story about our unique project. Our project has supported the economy and in return, the community has supported our project. We hope to increase production, sales, farm tours, consultations, and education. We plan to design and distribute a quarterly newsletter, an informational brochure about our farm, and are looking forward to creating our own website with links to organizations, universities, and classroom projects that got their start from our farm.