Fresh Seafood Produced 150 Miles from the Nearest Coast
From the road, the ponds sitting off to the side of Highway 43 in Boligee look just like a catfish farm. It’s not uncommon to see a catfish farm while traveling through the southern part of the state, since Alabama is the second largest catfish producing state in the country behind Mississippi. But when travelers pass Green Prairie Aquafarm they will quickly notice this is not a catfish farm at all.
At the entrance of this Greene County farm, a wooden sign painted yellow sits near the road with red and black letters exclaiming "SALTWATER POND-RAISED SHRIMP HERE."
Saltwater shrimp? A passerby might do a double-take and check to see if the sign was read correctly. Most people think fresh, saltwater shrimp in Alabama just comes from the Gulf of Mexico. But the truth is you can get fresh shrimp 150 miles from the nearest coast.
David Teichert-Coddington owns and manages a farm that produces and sells 170,000 pounds of saltwater shrimp a year. Many people might be surprised to know there is even saltwater in the state outside of the Gulf, but there is.
"There are two saltwater wells on the farm that are 650-680 feet deep," Teichert-Coddington said. "There is only salty water in this area; we don’t have any fresh water around here."
Teichert-Coddington is originally from Western New York, but moved to Auburn in 1980 to attend school at Auburn University. After graduation in 1986, he went to work at the University in the fisheries department. While he was working with the state Extension specialist for aquaculture in Auburn, a couple of men approached him with the idea of trying to see if shrimp would grow in the salty water of Greene County.
"I had worked with shrimp for ten years and I thought it would work," Teichert-Coddington recalled.
So, in 2001, he began the first and only aquaculture farm in Alabama strictly dedicated to shrimp production.
"A few other farms around here have some shrimp, but it’s mostly catfish farmers who only have a small pond or two of shrimp," he explained. "But we are the only one in the state that actually makes a living doing it."
Green Prairie Aquafarm consists of 54 acres of ponds. There are 17 earthen ponds going all around the large farm. The ponds range in size from 1.1 to five acres, the largest ones sit nearest the road.
Teichert-Coddington gets the post-larval shrimp from two different disease-free hatcheries in the United States. One of the hatcheries is located in the Florida Keys and the other is near Brownsville, TX. When the shrimp arrive, they are only about 12-days-old and very small.
"They are about half the size of mosquito larvae," Teichert-Coddington described the post-larval shrimp. "We bring them in and have to acclimate them to our salinity because the salinity of the water we get them from is near seawater strength, about 30 parts per 1,000, and ours is about 3.5 parts per 1000. We have to acclimate them down to our salinity and it takes several days.
"We put them in large tanks in a greenhouse and salt the water up to about 30 parts, or whatever the salinity is we are bringing them in at. Then we slowly add our pond water to that water to bring it down to our salinity."
The ponds around Green Prairie Aquafarm are stocked with the small shrimp in May. The shrimp are fed daily and stay in the ponds for four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half months. By the middle of September, the shrimp harvest begins.
"We harvest from the middle of September all the way through October. We hope to have everything out by the end of October, because it gets cold and these are warm water animals," Teichert-Coddington said. "If we keep them in the pond they will die."
To bring in the shrimp, he uses a "harvest machine."
"Basically it’s a big centrifugal pump which we put at the drain site and we have a big discharge pipe; the machine pumps the water and shrimp up on shore," Tiechert-Coddington explained the harvest process. "The water is discharged from the center and the shrimp come out the side.
"We pull trailers up underneath with a scale, weigh the shrimp and put them in big, insulated totes and layer them in ice. We send them to a processing plant in Mobile and have them custom-packed there. Or we bring them in and sell them fresh on the farm."
Green Prairie Aquafarm sells shrimp year-round on the farm. They offer three sizes of shrimp for customers to choose from: medium, large and jumbo. The price varies by the size of the shrimp.
"The shrimp being locally-produced is our main selling point," Teichert-Coddington said. "We have a hard time competing against imported shrimp because they can produce it a lot cheaper than we can."
In addition to selling shrimp directly from the farm, Teichert-Coddington makes a regular run to Birmingham to sell the shrimp.
"We have several stores around Birmingham we sell to and a number of restaurants that use them," he said. "We deliver to them once a week."
The shrimp farm also has a contract with the Whole Foods Market located on Highway 280 in Birmingham.
"The market uses a lot of locally-produced food and we are one of their local vendors," Teichert-Coddington said. "They have fairly stringent regulations at the market."
"You have to produce the shrimp using a certain kind of feed; you can’t use certain kinds of products in the feed. You can’t use chemicals. We don’t do that; we have an all-natural product."
From November to May, when the shrimp aren’t in the ponds, Teichert-Coddington spends his time selling shrimp and maintaining equipment around the farm.
For more information on shrimp and Green Prairie Aquafarm in Boligee, visit www.greeneprairieaquafarm.com.
Mary-Glenn Smith is a freelance writer from Snead.