Cows, pigs and chickens? Indiana's got plenty. Goats? Sure. Alpacas? You bet.
How about seafood?
Meet RDM Aquaculture, Indiana's premier shrimpers.
That's right — they're Hoosier shrimpers.
Yep, the state of Indiana — with exactly zero miles of saltwater coastline — is home to a shrimp-and-crawdad operation in that legendary seaside town of Fowler. Karlanea and Daryl Brown have been raising seafood in seven indoor tanks in the middle of landlocked Benton County for five years running, and are now offering their services as consultants for anyone who'd like to get into the same business.
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We were able to connect with Karlanea via email — she and Daryl have been literally criss-crossing the Midwest helping folks start their own aquaculture operations.
NUVO: What are the challenges in your business?
Karlanea Brown: Our biggest challenge right now is growing enough shrimp to supply our customers. We are a 40-count-per-pound shrimp operation and we cannot get past this weight because we sell them faster than we can grow them.
NUVO: What's an average day like?
Brown: Our average day [consists of] first testing the water so we know how to take care of the shrimp. We test for nine different items, every day, once a day. It usually takes about three hours. Then we feed, clean and sell or move shrimp. Every day is different, other than the testing. Every tank is different so it will have to be taken care of differently to the tank next to it. The tests tell us how we feed the shrimp and if anything else needs to be done, such as add baking soda for a low alkalinity level, for example. We add zero hormones or antibiotics to our tanks. The only things that go into our tanks are water, salt, shrimp, feed and some baking soda.
NUVO: How environmentally sustainable is this business?
Brown: We are very environmentally sustainable. We reuse our water. It is never discharged down the drain. The bacteria we use to sustain our water also acts as our water treatment. It consumes all the waste — and it is very cost effective.
We do not use a lot of energy. We use radiant heat and we have a [liquid propane] boiler that we use to heat the tanks.
NUVO: Explain the process that allows you to reuse the water.
Brown: We do not discharge our water because the bacteria take care of the waste. When our tanks' bacteria or settled solids get too high we then pump them into a tank next to the shrimp tank. Then we let all the waste settle to the bottom and the clean water comes to the top. The clean water is pumped back into the tank with the shrimp. When the bacteria get to the level we want we then let the bacteria consume all the waste in the settling tank. In about 14 days I have ice-tea-colored water in our settling tanks.
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NUVO: How does the flavor stack up against Gulf shrimp?
Brown: Our shrimp have a much better flavor. The only adjective I have ever been able to come up with is "clean." They have a much cleaner taste. No comparison — our shrimp taste much better. They have very little in their mud vein and their shells are very thin.
By...selling them live [the customer gets] the head and when the shrimp are cooked with the heads on you get this wonderful sweetness into the meat. We actually eat everything on the shrimp except the head. A lot of our clients love the head. They can have mine!
NUVO: Whom are you selling to?
Brown: We sell 99.9 percent retail out our front door. We [sell to] some restaurants like the Renaissance in Chicago, or the DigIN festival in Indy. We just added on to our building and will be adding 14 more production tanks along with a few tilapia tanks and an aquaponics system. We raise Pacific White shrimp and Australian Red Claw Crawfish.
NUVO: You consult, too. You've helped to set up 18 farms. Why are you so interested in aquacultural growth beyond your farm?
Brown: We started consulting just to help people get started. Our first year we lost over one million shrimp due to simple things and now we know what to look for ... We thought we could help others so they [could avoid] the hard times. We actually take 18 months off your learning curve. We can get you into shrimp farming with an eight-tank system including everything you will need for your building and six months chemical supplies for testing for about $100,000.00. This includes everything you will need minus your building. We have put these [operations] in chicken barns, turkey barns, hog barns, school gymnasiums, new buildings and cider mill barns.
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You should get some return on your investment at about the 24-month mark. The only pitfall is banks don't understand what we're about — they already have a preconceived idea. They are starting to come around. The shrimp have paid for us to add two employees, build a new building and expand our production without loans.
My interest in the growth of this business is simple. Most people do not understand where their shrimp come from. They do not know they are loaded with hormones and antibiotics. We need more shrimp farmers because we can supply enough shrimp to everyone who wants and needs great tasting shrimp with no hormones or antibiotics. The only way we can do this is by getting more farmers involved. No one farmer can supply all the corn or soybeans needed for consumers.
NUVO: What worries you? Power outages, I imagine?
Brown: Power and disease are our worries. We've had several power outages here in Benton County, some as long as 11 hours. The shrimp can only survive for one hour with out power. We do have a backup generator. Disease is another worry — this is why we test continuously. We also have very strict protocols on how we do our testing. We have been fortunate we have not had any disease problems.The Brown family will be at the Fair on Aug. 17 to enlighten Hoosiers on aquaculture, “one of the fastest growing industries in the state,” according to Karlanea.