How Green is Midwest Shrimp?

In a large unheated shed with two rotating fans and a few dim fluorescent lights, Bob Calala runs Ohio’s only shrimp nursery, 20 miles west of Oberlin amid corn fields, red barns and vast expanses of flat land. For years this area has been hog territory; now, family farmers are growing more shrimp and fewer hogs. The nursery I visited on Saturday had three tanks that reminded me of above-ground backyard swimming pools but instead of children they contain baby shrimp – 600,000 at the start of the growing process. A 1.5hp pump, powered by French fry oil, blows air into the tanks to circulate the water. The shrimp are fed a compound that is 28% protein, only a small fraction of which is fishmeal, so the toll on ocean resources is small. Within a month, the shrimp double in size. When 20 can occupy one square foot, they are sold to shrimp farmers throughout Ohio to stock self-contained ponds for three months until they are mature and harvested as food. (The delivery truck is powered by bio-fuel as well.) Two nearby Bon Appetit Ohio accounts – Oberlin College and Case Western Reserve University – buy hundreds of pounds of their products. Most are consumed by local Ohioans eager for tasty, antibiotic-free and truly local shrimp. I tasted the shrimp Saturday evening, cooked, and bathed in a saffron aioli. (I couldn’t get enough of either and ate more than my fair share.)

Grown to maturity in outdoor ponds, shrimp farming can only occur in summer months (due to water temperatures). With the development of conservation-oriented government regulation of aquaculture in Midwestern states, and the role shrimp farming plays in stabilizing income for family farms, "Ohio shrimp" may become a seasonal treat that promotes natural resource conservation and is part of the reemergence of the Midstates’ regional foodshed. Who would have assumed that shrimp would be so integral? Let’s hope (and encourage) other states to do the same.

– Helene York, Director, Bon Appetit Management Company Foundation